DUP Leader and First Minister Peter Robinson MP this evening made the following speech at the launch of Belfast Orangefest at the Park Avenue Hotel. Mr Robinson said,
“Thank you for inviting me this evening. It is a great pleasure to share in this evening’s proceedings as we celebrate another year of the Orangefest Initiative. I am particularly impressed with the line up of events and am sure that we will continue to enjoy them all very much.
I place a high value on the role of the Orange Institution within Ulster society: this is reflective of the fact that the Orange Institution is a key stake-holder within our community. Orange Halls provide a network of community centres around our Province: halls that are used on a day and daily basis not only by the loyal orders, but also by other organisations such as mother and toddler groups, Women’s Institutes and Young Farmers – not that there’s too many of them in East Belfast!
I also wanted to congratulate all those who have been involved with Orangefest and the County Grand Lodge of Belfast for the work they have done to promote Orange culture in such a positive way and in a way which can help secure and enhance it in the years ahead. I believe that this approach not only allows our tradition to be celebrated, but does so in a way that opens it up to those from outside our own background and tradition.
The Orange Institution stages some of the largest cultural celebrations in Europe. Tomorrow, we will celebrate the Glorious Revolution and with it the concept of civil and religious liberty for all which was cemented into our constitution and laws by the victory of William at the Boyne. Initiatives such as Orangefest which seek to broaden the appeal and develop the understanding of our cultural celebrations are extremely constructive. I want to see government respond to the positive actions of the Order and I know the new DCAL Minister, Gregory Campbell, is very keen to meet and discuss with you how his department can help in the future.
Gregory is of the view that it is not about whether there is some existing scheme from which Orange projects can benefit but, given what the Institution is trying to do by way of education, outreach and cultural advancement, whether there can be any new initiatives the Department can take which will develop the potential that has been identified. Moreover, I have often heard Orange spokespersons outline the potential that the 12th has in terms of tourism. I strongly agree. There is no good reason why Northern Ireland should not become a magnet for those around the globe who are interested in cultural tourism? It is a challenge with a huge potential, and I am delighted that the Institution is rising to meet it. There is much to do to make this a reality but I am certain that the work that is being done here can make it happen. Again Arlene Foster, our DETI Minister, is willing to play a full part in making progress in this area and working with you.
I will be happy to facilitate a dialogue on all these matters with the relevant Ministers to ensure that the Orange Institution is not limited in the progress it can make by a lack of vision in officialdom.
There are still other vital issues to be resolved, not least of which will be a resolution to the curtailment of the right to parade. I do not believe the Parades Commission is a part of the solution to this problem. It must go. We will continue to work for a way forward and we acknowledge the work already being carried out in reviewing this issue. But progress has been made on some other issues. Today, Orange Halls are exempt from Rates saving hundreds, sometimes thousands of pounds. Progress has been made in ensuring halls damaged will have access to Government compensation. We will need to press during the consultation period for the removal of the sunset clause which would limit the length of this provision being in place. Many of these achievements have been realised by the best possible co-operation between the Orange Order and the political parties. I believe this relationship should continue to grow in the future.
One of the Orange Order’s great strengths down through the years has been the fact that it acts as a unifying force within the Protestant and Unionist community. Orangeism, in all its manifestations, belongs to us all, regardless of denomination or political allegiances. It is a place where people with different party political backgrounds and indeed those with no party political affiliations can come together. This is a positive and important role that the Order plays within the broad unionist community. Times have changed significantly since this great Institution was formed. Yet it is still relevant and vibrant. Human behaviour has changed. People’s outlooks change. Northern Ireland is changing. But the strength of any organisation will be found in its ability to adapt to changing circumstances while still remaining true to its core beliefs and traditions. By any standards the Orange Order’s long and historic existence is a testament to this. Now, it is clear the Order is framing its role for the next hundred years and if the progress of recent years is anything to go by then I am certain it can look forward to a most successful future.”