Grand Lodge speaks out against elements of ‘New Decade, New Approach’
At a specially convened meeting of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland held in Co. Tyrone on Thursday, January 30, the Institution’s governing body unanimously reaffirmed their opposition to key elements of the ‘New Decade, New Approach’ document.
More than 120 delegates representing every county in the Orange Order’s jurisdiction attended to voice the views of their members. There was much anger and frustration expressed at various aspects of the document and the process which led to its creation.
Grand Lodge recognises that many aspects of the agreement are for the common good, such as health, education, funding for infrastructure, as well as initiatives to help grow economic stability but believes these should be regarded as fundamental expectations of society and as such, should not have been brought into play as emotional bargaining chips in a political deal.
A spokesperson for the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland explained: “Of particular concern is the increasing normalisation of the Republic of Ireland Government’s involvement in Northern Ireland politics. This was evidenced by the regular presence of Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney in negotiations dealing with what were clearly ‘Strand One’ issues relating exclusively to the internal affairs of Northern Ireland. This is against the agreed principles of the 1998 Belfast Agreement.
The Orange Institution reiterates that it has no quarrel with those who have an affinity with the Irish language and wish to use it, nor has it ever sought to deny anyone the right to enjoy these traditions. It does, however, have real concerns about the weaponisation of the language as evidenced by the rhetoric and words of Irish Republicanism.
The spokesperson continued: “Our concerns remain unchanged surrounding the powers of the agreed Irish Language Commissioner and the resulting onus which will be placed on all public bodies to enhance and promote the Irish language. The lack of any indication as to the cost of such legislative provision is alarming and we fear that the already stark disparity in funding between Irish and other cultural traditions here will now expand even further.
“Any attempts to counter such potentially far-reaching Irish language legislation cannot realistically hope to be addressed with the appointment of a further commissioner who will deal with issues relating to Ulster-Scots/Ulster-British matters. The remit and scope of this post is much less clear, lacks community understanding and is devoid of any meaningful equivalence in terms of powers or remit.”
Grand Lodge also has major concerns with the UK Government’s commitment to introduce legislation in Westminster which would implement the legacy structures identified in the Stormont House Agreement. This is surprising and disappointing given the comprehensive rejection of these structures by those who represent the interests of innocent victims and service personnel and assurances that Legacy issues would not form part of this process.
This deal and the many unresolved issues regarding Brexit will present Unionism with very real challenges. In the coming months, the Institution will seek clarity where there is ambiguity; oppose that which is a clear threat to the Union and challenge the use of the Irish Language as a blunt instrument to further a cultural war. The Institution is committed to further engagement with its members, political Unionism, Government representatives and wider society in order to further discuss issues of concern, monitor political progress and hold to account those who have made various commitments as part of the agreement. We will also work closely with fellow Unionists to maximise opportunities which strengthen Northern Ireland’s place as an integral part of the United Kingdom.