A senior member of the Orange Order has challenged the Irish Government to permit a loyalist parade through Dublin city centre.
Grand secretary Drew Nelson, who made history yesterday when he became the first Orangeman to address the Dáil, said the State should honour its declaration of independence and treat all citizens equally.
He pointed out that the Republic of Ireland is home to several hundred members of the lodge.
“If you really value those people as members of your society, if you want to treat all the children equally then we would like to see this happening,” said Mr Nelson.
“This is a challenge to Irish society. Are we welcome to do that or are we not.”
Mr Nelson addressed senators in the upper house but refused to speak directly to any Sinn Féin representatives. He said later that he would not forget the fact that over 300 Orangemen were murdered during the Northern Ireland Troubles.
The grand secretary, a key player in the order’s hierarchy, refused to follow the queen’s example of last week when she shook hands with Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness.
Mr Nelson responded to remarks from senators, including Sinn Fein’s David Cullinane, through the chairman. As policy, the Orange Order does not speak directly to Sinn Féin.
“Sinn Féin was making a political statement with the handshake and as a servant of the people, the queen had no choice. We have a choice,” he said.
About 20 Orange Order parades take place in Ireland every year but none in a major city.
The only attempt to hold a major demonstration in Dublin – the Love Ulster march in 2006 – was abandoned after hundreds of protesters opposed to the Orange march rioted on the streets of Dublin.
Mr Nelson, who also called for Ireland to rejoin the Commonwealth, suggested the State had failed to look after Protestant communities in the border counties compared to the way the British Government looked after Catholics in Northern Ireland.
On the issue of falling Protestant populations in Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan Mr Nelson said the dwindled numbers compared with growing Catholic communities north of the border.
“This of course begs the question as to which state looked after its minority better,” said Mr Nelson.
He said many Protestants have spoken of their “fear of incurring the displeasure” of the State in any way – not necessarily a fear of violence.
Mr Nelson went on to appeal to the Oireachtas to continue to support Protestant schools in Ireland.
He said communities, particularly those in the border counties, live in fear for their continued survival in the face of cuts to Church of Ireland and other Protestant schools, which do not fall under state control.
“The Protestant community actually fears for its continued survival as a viable, self-sustaining community,” said Mr Nelson.
“I appeal to you today to take whatever steps are within your power to address that issue and reassure our members living in the border counties.”
Mr Nelson also condemned recent sectarian attacks on Orange Order halls, which he described as the “demonisation” of the organisation by some members of the Republican movement.
He said continued resistance to the order’s parades, including its annual Twelfth of July demonstrations across Northern Ireland, has a corrosive effect on Catholic-Protestant relations.
Mr Nelson called for accommodation and tolerance – not segregation.
Meanwhile, Senator Martin McAleese, husband of former president Mary McAleese, told Mr Nelson of his fear as a Catholic child growing up in Loyalist east Belfast and watching Orange Order parades.
He said he hated the marching season and felt threatened as part of the minority community, but recent cross-community co-operation between himself and Mr Nelson had helped him develop an appreciation for the order’s heritage.
Meanwhile, Seanad chairman Paddy Burke said Mr Nelson’s presence in the chamber was an example of progress made between the north and south.
He said he had little awareness of the Orange Order as a child having grown up in rural Ireland, and therefore believed the organisation to be “far removed” and “irrelevant” to Irish life.