Orders to maintain talks boycott

Leaders of the Protestant marching orders have said they still will not talk directly to Sinn Féin or to residents groups about their sectarian parades through Catholic areas.

This was the position expressed by the Orange Order, the Royal Black Institution and the Independent Orange Order when meeting a delegation from the nationalist SDLP party, headed by Mark Durkan.

Although it was the first time such talks have been held, hopes for a broader engagment appear to have been dashed.

Grand Master Robert Saulters and Secretary Drew Nelson were also part of a delegation that met Irish President Mary McAleese and her husband Martin in Dublin today

The encounters are being seen as part of an ongoing attempt to ease tensions ahead of the looming Protestant marching season north of the border.

“We are conscious of the need to try and resolve some of the tension surrounding the parading issue,” an Orange spokesman said.

“It’s clear a number of other people are conscious of them as well.”

However, Saulters also ruled out talks with the controversial Parades Commission, which was set up to adjudicate on contentious parade routes, despite the recent appointment of Orangemen to the Commission.

Saulters said: “Our grand lodge decided in 1998 that this legislation was deeply flawed. We consider [the Parades Commission] to be part of the problem.”

William Long, head of the Royal Black Institution, said he could not “in conscience” talk to republicans. David McConaghie of the Independent Orange Order, called on the IRA to “apologise” for its participation in the conflict of the past thirty years.

Nevertheless, Saulters said ‘never say never’ when asked if he would meet Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams.

Mr Durkan said his party was not going to be a substitute for anyone else in talks.

“We are not going to be a conduit for anything else. They can’t use dialogue with us as a way to bypass existing bodies like the Parades Commission that have clear responsibilities.

“They can’t use dialogue with us as a way of avoiding the reality of their own responsibilities for engaging with many other people in this community.”

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© 2006 Irish Republican News