The anti-Catholic Orange Order has said it has no intention of inviting Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness to its July Twelfth marches and rallies after the Deputy First Minister in the Six Counties said he would be willing to attend.
The events commemorate the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, when forces lead by the Protestant King William defeated those lead by the Catholic King James.
Although the exclusively Protestant organisation has never invited Catholics to take part in its events, the Sinn Fein man had indicated he was willing to attend the Orange Order’s July 12 marches if asked. Mr McGuinness said he would give any invitation “very serious consideration”.
“It’s important not to impose yourself, but I do think it’s important that people are big enough to invite you,” he said.
Mr McGuinness praised the work of Derry residents and the Apprentice Boys marching organisation in finding a resolution around parades in the city. He said the presence of the loyalist marchers in Derry “enrich our lives”.
But despite his ‘reaching out’, as he described it, the Orange Order dismissed the idea. It said all of its demonstrations could be viewed by the public but that an invitation to McGuinness would be an “insult” to the memory of its members who died in the conflict. It said the Sinn Fein man had been a prominent member of the Provisional IRA and that many of its members who were killed were “serving or retired members of the Crown Forces”.
“Sinn Fein have never apologised, nor shown genuine remorse, for the murder of the Crown Forces,” their statement said.
The spat comes as loyalists prepare for a 12 hour sectarian protest outside Belfast City Hall on St Patrick’s Day.
In a statement on its Facebook page, a group known as the ‘Loyal Peoples Protest’ confirmed the event, along with slogans “No Surrender” and “We will never back down”, a reference to its continuing campaign to restore the year-round flying of the British Union Jack flag atop the city hall.
In late 2012 and early 2013, disturbances took place across the North following a decision by Belfast City Council to reduce the year-round flying of the British flag over the council buildings to 18 days.
In a setback for the flag protestors, prominent loyalist Jamie Bryson now disowned the St Patrick’s Day protest. Former DUP councillor Ruth Patterson, who is standing as an independent candidate in the Assembly elections and for whom Bryson is campaign manager, also denounced the idea.
Patterson said there was not a “strategic or political purpose” in organising a protest on St Patrick’s Day. However, she also provoked widespread ridicule when she claimed Ireland’s patron saint, who spread Christianity in the 5th century, was “a former Protestant”.
In response to the criticism, the protest organisers said: “We would urge these same people to condemn those who will flaunt the Irish tricolour on this day, as they have in previous St Patrick Day parades through our city centre.
“The LPP Union Flag Vigil due to take place on the 17/3/16 will as planned take place. NO SURRENDER.”