The ‘Grand Master’ of the Orange Order has said a single unionist party is needed to prevent a united Ireland, while a leading member of the SDLP has withdrawn a surprise statement calling for a single nationalist party in the North.
Robert Saulters, leader of the North’s largest Protestant marching order organisation, said on Friday that unionists would “continue to dilute the union if we fight and bicker among ourselves”.
He issued his warning to fellow Orangemen as contacts were being made over a possible combination of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and the larger Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
In an openly political address, Saulters declared that a “huge groundswell of opinion” existed for “a drive towards unionist unity or at the very least better joined-up thinking between unionists.
“Personally, I believe there should be one big unionist party which represents all the views that I hear. It must be a party that is big enough and modern enough to allow people with conflicting opinions to work together for the common purpose of maintaining the union,” he said,
“The one phrase which seems to really upset our enemies is unionist unity. They are unable to cope with the prospect and we should take note of that.”
Sinn Fein Assembly member for North Antrim Daithi McKay said that time and again the Orange Order let the mask slip and he called on the Order to end the pretence of being a non-political organisation.
“Time and again Orange Order spokespeople try to spin the yarn that the Order is little more than a cultural body. Yet time and again the Orange Order leadership engage openly in the political arena.
“Whether it is organising opposition to the papal visit to England, or organising electoral pacts in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, the pretence of being a cultural organisation is continually exposed not by nationalists but by the Orange Order itself.
“It is time the Orange Order got real. It is time to stop pretending and stop playing the cultural card when it comes to seeking to march through nationalist communities where they are not wanted. The latest intervention this weekend by the Grand Master calling for a single unionist party comes just as the marching season is getting underway.
“It is in many ways a timely reminder of the real Orange Order agenda. This is about domination and about the denial of rights. No amount of spin from the Orange Order or their political allies in the coming weeks and months will be able to mask the political agenda which drives Orangeism.”
Meanwhile, there was some surprise today after the SDLP’s prominent Assembly member for north Antrim, Declan O’Loan, hurriedly withdrew his call for the formation of a single nationalist party following a furious reaction from his party colleagues.
He said he had discussed the idea with the grassroots members in his constituency. and said that it was very strongly supported.
The statement said: “I believe that a major realignment of northern nationalism is now called for and I think that this means the formation of a new single nationalist party.
“The values of the SDLP and its ability to command respect and at least second preference votes across the whole community are not something that should be lost.
“In the interests of achieving Irish unity, that respect is vital.”
He added: “Many nationalist voters are willing to exercise their votes interchangeably between the SDLP and Sinn Fein.”
But he later withdrew the original statement saying it “does not represent established party policy.”
Sinn Fein’s Daithi McKay said Mr O’Loan’s comments and subsequent withdrawal of them showed disunity in the SDLP’s ranks, and stood in sharp contrast to the SDLP’s hostility towards an offer of co-operation by Sinn Fein in the Westminster election earlier this month.
“The comments from SDLP MLA Declan O’Loan in respect of a single nationalist party and his resulting ‘gagging’ by the party leadership demonstrate that the SDLP are in disarray,” he said.
“The telling part of Mr O’Loan’s statement is the final paragraph. He is seeking a nationalist party for what he calls ‘Northern Ireland’ one which would maintain working relationships with parties in what he calls ‘the south’.
“This exposes very starkly the partitionist mindset which Mr O’Loan and people like him are trapped in. The Irish nation does not stop at Dundalk or Aughnacloy. And neither should any nationalist party. Sinn Fein are an Irish Republican party, our vision of a united Ireland goes far beyond that partitionist vision as set out by Mr O’Loan.”