President visits Orange hall
President visits Orange hall

President Mary McAleese has made the first official visit by an Irish head of state to an Orange Order hall.

Mrs McAleese visited Brakey Orange Hall, just outside Bailieborough, County Cavan, which was destroyed in an arson attack on July 13th, 2000, but rebuilt and reopened in 2004.

Mrs McAleese said the “journey of peace-building and peace-making” since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement 10 years ago must continue, and called for a new culture of tolerance and acceptance in both parts of Ireland.

The President was welcomed by Cavan County Grand Master Henry Latimer, who praised the financial support for Orange halls in Border counties provided by the 26-County government.

He said Orange halls provided the facilities for meetings, classes and social events within the community.

“Given the widespread nature of such activity, it demonstrates why when halls are damaged, attacked, destroyed or [placed] beyond use for periods of time, the community activity of its related hinterland suffers and is curtailed,” he said.

Mrs McAleese made no reference to the sectarian policies of the Order, including its anti-Catholic oath of allegiance, but she called on Irish people everywhere “to build a new culture... each accepting that there are different perspectives and practices”.

The burning of Orange halls and Gaelic sports clubs, she said, were “intemperate acts of vandalism” which were “a throw-back to another time”.

The President praised Mr Latimer as “a good Cavan man, a good Irishman and a good Orangeman”. She also said that it was possible to be both Irish and British, a statement later dismissed as “nonsensical” by Republican Sinn Féin.

“It is not possible for someone to give their allegiance both to Ireland and to Britain,” an RSF spokesperson said.

“Britain represents the denial of Ireland’s rights. Orangemen should instead be encouraged to recognise that they are exclusively Irish, and to work for the benefit of the Irish Nation rather than adhering to narrow sectarian Orange ideology.

“To suggest that Unionists are anything other than Irish amounts to a tacit acceptance of Thatcherite claims that the Six Occupied Counties are ‘as British as Finchley’.”

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© 2008 Irish Republican News