03/05/2006

Orange Order to meet with Irish President's husband

Representatives form the Orange Order leadership are to travel to Dublin today to meet with the Irish President's husband Martin McAleese.

Grand Master Robert Saulters and Secretary Drew Nelson are to discuss the interests of members of the Orange Order in the Irish Republic and are also expected to embark on talks in an attempt to ease tensions in the run up to the marching season in the north.

Today's meeting follows the first ever talks held between the Loyal Orders and the nationalist SDLP.

Although the Orange Order remain intent on boycotting the Northern Ireland Parades Commission, which has the authority to rule on contentious parades, they have agreed to meet with residents groups in a bid to come to some kind of solution to the parades passing through flash-point areas.

Over the past number of years, the marching season has sparked off stand-off's and street violence due to controversial parades being prevented from passing through nationalist areas by Parades Commission rulings.

Although Dr McAleese does not have any official authority with the Irish Government, he has previously been influential during meetings with loyalist paramilitary leaders in Belfast, and it is understood that Irish civil servants will be present during the talks.

A spokesman for the Orange Order has revealed that today's meeting did not suggest any major breakthrough in the parades situation.

He said: "We have met with Irish Government officials in Belfast about three weeks ago to have discussions about parading issues and issues in the South.

"We met the SDLP yesterday and Peter Hain three times in the last month."

He concluded by saying that the meeting may reflect a change in tactics but it is not a part of a concerted campaign.

(EF/SP)

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