30/06/2006

Orange Order awarded government funding

The government has announced that it is to give the Orange Order around £100,000 in an attempt to make the annual twelfth of July parade into a tourist attraction.

Ministers aim to turn the parade, which in recent times has kept tourists out of the city, into an event which will attract visitors to Belfast and help to boost the local economy.

Social Development Minister David Hanson said he had approved an application for the County Grand Lodge of Belfast for funding of £104,000 for a new development officer.

The money is to be paid in instalments over the next three years, will fund the position.

The Minister continued by saying that Belfast city centre was about to experience rapid growth in retail, leisure and tourism, and added that it was disappointing that at the moment, people will be driven from the city during the marching season.

Mr Hanson added: "Given the urban renewal under way in Belfast I believe that the time is right to see whether the Orange Order can achieve a broader understanding and acceptance of Orange culture and tradition across the community."

The Minister continued by saying that if this could be achieved then everyone on both sides of the community plus local businesses, would benefit.

Mr Hanson said the newly appointed officer would work to promote the positive aspects of the Belfast parade, keeping in mind the following objectives: To improve community relations; To promote greater understanding of Orange cultural tradition; To develop the 12th July as a major cultural tourism event; To promote `Orangefest` as a fully inclusive, family-friendly event; To develop the festival as an economic promotional day for businesses; To promote Belfast in a positive light and encourage visitors to watch the parade.

Belfast County Grand Master of the Orange Order, Dawson Bailie, welcomed the decision and said that the funding was another step along the long road towards full and proper recognition of the Orange tradition as a key element of the cultural diversity that is Belfast.

However, Sinn Fein have described the move as "wrong and unacceptable."

Commenting on the announcement, Sinn Fein MLA, Alex Maskey said: "This is entirely the wrong decision. It is unacceptable that the British Government should fund an organisation which continues to force its anti-Catholic parades through Catholic areas.

"The 12th July for many nationalists in Belfast represents domination and sectarian violence," he said.

(EF/SP)

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