Open letter to the Orange Order
Open letter to the Orange Order

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams has issued an open letter to the Orange Order Grand Secretary Drew Nelson. The letter challenges the Order to talk to Sinn Fein and also details links between the Order and unionist paramilitaries.

An Open Letter to Drew Nelson

Drew a chara,

After personally reflecting on the statements and resolutions issued by the Orange Order I would like to outline a personal perspective for consideration.

As Grand Secretary you call for ‘Respect’. This I fully endorse. But respect, if it is to be meaningful, must be mutual. Accordingly, I would call for mutual respect between all parties to parading disputes. If the Orange Order seeks ‘respect’ from others, then it in turn must respect the views of those who differ from them, and address their concerns in a peaceful and dignified way.

This applies particularly to parades through or fringing sensitive areas, where little or no respect has been shown to local residents. The annual insistence on contracting Loyalist paramilitary or ‘kick the pope’ bands, the appearance of UDA, UVF and YCV flags and bannerettes and the refusal to countenance alternative non-contentious routes, is hardly indicative of a manifestation of respect or Christian forbearance.

Mutual respect could also be demonstrated if the Orange Order and indeed all the Loyal Orders could agree to a process of meaningful dialogue with the political representatives of the Nationalist community. This should not present a difficulty for the leadership of the Orange Order whose members have over the years held discussions in Belfast and beyond with myself and other Republicans.

Furthermore on the Orange website you declare your organisation to be Christ-centred, Bible-based and Church grounded. As a Christian institution in 1998 you agreed with the heads of the main Protestant Churches that you ‘cannot refuse to talk to anyone made in the image of God’. How do these declarations reconcile with your continued refusal to meet with Sinn Fein?

After the 12th this year, as a prerequisite to dialogue, you called on me to apologise for and to stop glorifying IRA killings and ‘the murder of those 273 members by the Provisional IRA’.

I have never glorified IRA killings. I made it a point in my media interviews after your public comments to directly address your request. I expressed my sincere regrets for the deaths and injuries caused by republicans. I do so again. This includes members of loyal institutions.

In my opinion all of the deaths and the bereavement of families from all sides should be a matter of regret for everyone, republican and Orangeman alike. A commitment to prevent such deaths should also be the responsibility of republicans and Orangemen.

This year’s 12th resolutions declare, “As an institution which has lost 335 members to a vicious terrorist campaign”. So who was responsible for the deaths of the remaining 62 members? Was it a direct or indirect result of membership of Loyalist paramilitaries? Were some brethren killed by members of the British Crown Forces, the same Crown who you reaffirm your devotion and loyalty to every 12th?

How many nationalists were slain by Orangemen in Loyalist paramilitary groups? Or in the British Crown Forces? Perhaps I could offer some examples of paramilitarism. A Belfast lodge, renowned for its UVF connections, is the ‘Old Boyne Island Heroes’ LOL 633. On their bannerette were listed 6 UVF lodge members who were killed in the recent conflict.

  • Aubrey Reid was killed in a premature explosion while on ‘active service’ for the UVF;

  • Noel Shaw was killed in an internal UVF feud;

  • John Bingham, a UVF commander was shot dead in 1986; He received an Orange funeral with members of his lodge flanking his coffin wearing traditional regalia;

  • Brian Robinson a UVF and lodge member was shot dead on 2/9/1989 by a British Army undercover team, just after he shot dead a catholic resident of Ardoyne, Patrick McKenna. He also received an Orange funeral.

  • Bobby ‘Basher’ Bates, also a UVF and lodge member, who was part of the Shankill Butchers gang which savagely killed many Catholics. He was shot dead by a fellow Loyalist in a revenge attack.

  • And finally, Colin Craig, another UVF and lodge member, was shot dead by the INLA in 1994. He initially featured on the bannerette but was removed when it was alleged that he was an informer.

    Furthermore, on June 28th 2003 the ‘Old Boyne Island Heroes’ LOL 633 walked in the contentious Whiterock parade along the Springfield Road. Carrying their bannerette depicting Brian Robinson was none other than Eddie McIlwaine, adorned with Orange sash who was sentenced to 8 years for his part in the Shankill Butcher’s campaign of terror.

    These UVF links extend to leadership figures within the Orange Order. The former District Master of No.9 District who file for the Whiterock parade every June, was described in death and subsequent anniversary notices as Vol. John Bradshaw McFarlane, Chief Medical Officer, UVF.

    As a self proclaimed Christian institution the Orange Order should take cognizance of a relevant reference from the Bible, Matthew 7:3-5 (King James Version) “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote of thy brother’s eye”.

    Irrespective of the differences which exist between us, let us all focus on how to resolve the remaining handful of contentious parades in a spirit of mutual respect. As a society, we cannot afford the negative and unsustainable political, financial and social costs from parading disputes.

    The Orange Order and Orangeism is a part of who we are as a nation.

    Irish republicans want a dialogue with the Orange in order that we can each understand and appreciate the position of the other.

    There are over 3000 orange marches each year. Irish republicans accept the right of the Order to parade and to promote its sense of orangeism. But this has to be on the basis of equality and mutual respect and tolerance. The overwhelming majority of orange parades take place without rancour or dispute. But there are a small number which each year give cause for concern.

    I am again asking you and the Orange Order to engage in dialogue with local residents and with Sinn Fein and let us together seek to resolve these in a common sense and respectful manner. Our door is open.

    Le meas

    Gerry Adams MP MLA

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