30 July 1998 Edition
Orange Order Grand Master Robert Saulters has done an amazing U-turn in the past few days in relation to the organisation's position on speaking to nationalist residents. It appears that Saulters has been effectively silenced by senior elements in the Orange Order following comments which indicated a willingness to enter dialogue over contentious parades.
On Sunday Saulters said that he would be putting the issue of direct dialogue with the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition to the Grand Lodge.
He also expressed the opinion that it would have been in the interests of the Orange Order to talk directly to residents groups and that this had been clear to him since the time of proximity talks in Hillsborough last year.
However on Tuesday in what marked a breathtaking turnaround Saulters issued a statement from Orange Headquarters in Belfast claiming that there was confusion over his weekend remarks. Orangemen talking to nationalist residents associations could only be considered ``when it is finally determined that Sinnn Féin/IRA declare their terrorist campaign is over for good, that their illegal weapons are decommissioned, and genuine remorse is publicly expressed,'' he said.
Saulters's U-turn has underlined the tensions and growing divisons within Unionism and the Orange Order over the way forward.
It is clear that there are many within Unionsim who realise what the future can only be built on dialogue and accommodation. Robert Saulters knows this but he has been silenced by the `No' men who still control the Orange Order and large sections of unionism itself. The reactionary element still holds great sway and will resist any and every move towards creating an equal society. They must not be allowed to hold the rest of the people of Ireland to ransom.
Rather they should be isolated so that the rest of us can move on to build a peaceful future. As the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and First Minister in the Six County Executive what better example could David Trimble show than by commencing direct dialogue now with Sinn Féin?
On Tuesday 28 July Robert Saulters, the Grand Master of the Orange Order, disowned remarks he had made the previous weekend when he said that the Order should talk to residents groups. He had previously said, ``I think talks with these groups is inevitable. The Grand Lodge will meet on Saturday to discuss the Drumcree situation and I will be suggesting that we change our policy.''
But, by Tuesday, the hope that the order were willing to resolve the parades issue by dialogue, rather than by violence and intimidation, was extinguished.
Saulters, having obviously been leaned on by loyalist hardliners, stated ``The policy of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland is clear, Orangemen cannot in all conscience talk to certain resident groups that are manipulated by Sinn Fein/IRA.''
This U-turn will undoubtedly bolster the Apprentice Boys of Derry's stance of not talking to nationalist residents of the Bogside before their proposed parade on 8 August and further escalating the tension in the city.
Dara O'Hagan, SF Assembly member for Upper Bann, expressed ``disappointment'' at the Orange leader's about-face and added ``I would urge Mr Saulters to reconsider his position and stand by his earlier comments.''
His diminishing power within the Order and dwindling respect he has in the broader unionist community calls into question how much longer he can remain leader of an organisation determined to march stridently back into the past.
A spokesperson for the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community echoed this enquiry in calling for the Orange leader to resign and adding ``The antics of Robert Saulters give us no confident that the Orange order leadership is yet ready to begin to resolve the problems which parades cause in our society.''