Irish President Michael D Higgins has been invited to attend an Orange Parade – and is expected to accept the invitation.
Orange Lodge Grand Master Edward Stevenson issued the invitation at the only Twelfth of July parade to the held in the Republic of Ireland.
The Sunday Independent reports that the invitation was issued on Saturday as the Orange Order held their traditional march in the Donegal seaside village of Rossnowlagh, a week ahead of the big marches across Northern Ireland.
The report says that more than 7,000 Orange Order members and supporters took part in the annual parade from the local hall to the beach. The match was attended by lodges from Donegal, Cavan, Monaghan, Dublin and Derry.
Controversially two bands, one from Newtowncunningham in Donegal and one from Ballyronan in Co Derry, played the sectarian tune The Sash.
Addressing the crowd, Stevenson issued the invitation to President Higgins but also warned that the Orange Order will not ‘lie down’ if tensions rise in the North ahead of next weekend’s marches.
Stevenson said: “Two years ago, our Grand Secretary Drew Nelson made a landmark and historic speech in the Irish Senate in Dublin.
“Mr Nelson spoke of the challenges facing all of us as we move forward together, and despite the horror of the sectarian campaign carried out in the name of Irish republicanism, underlined the Orange institution’s genuine desire to see a normalisation of relationships on these islands.
“No more so was this illustrated by the momentous state visit of Her Majesty the Queen here to the Republic in 2011. During her trip, the Queen visited sites of significance to Irish nationalism, including the Garden of Remembrance and Croke Park in Dublin. Such gestures of reconciliation were hugely symbolic and carried out by Her Majesty with great decorum and respect.
“It is against this backdrop, and from this platform today, that I publically invite the President of the Republic of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, to join us and witness for himself next year the colour and spectacle of the only Twelfth demonstration in this jurisdiction.
“You will be made most welcome here in Rossnowlagh, President Higgins, and I trust you will accept the genuine invitation in the spirit of goodwill and neighbourliness in which it is intended.
“In your inaugural speech, you spoke of a ‘common, shared future built on the spirit of co-operation’, about ‘equality’ and ‘respect for all.'
“What better way to make such words a reality by reaching out in a hand of friendship to the minority Protestant community in the Republic; the symbolism of which would have positive ramifications beyond the boundaries of County Donegal.”
Stevenson also addressed the decision of the Parades Commission to re-route a march away from the nationalist area of Ardoyne in Belfast next Saturday.
A similar ban last year led to rioting in loyalist areas of the city.
Describing the decision as ‘disastrous’, Stevenson added: “I have called an emergency meeting of all County Grand Masters and District Masters from all over Northern Ireland to inform them of our course of action and our engagement with the leaders of unionism.
“Violence should not prevail but it seems almost inevitable.”