07 June 2012

The Grand Secretary of the Orange Order will give a historic address to the Seanad next month.

Drew Nelson will become the first member of the Orange Order to visit Leinster House when he gives a speech there on July 3, an event described as momentous step forward for the country.

The announcement was made as Mike Nesbitt became the first leader of the Ulster Unionist Party to address an Oireachtas committee in Dublin.

Mr Nesbitt said his attendance at the committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement was not just about symbolism but was to encourage practical co-operation.

Senator Paddy Burke, chairman of the Seanad, said he believed Mr Nelson’s visit would be another step on the path to sustained peace and reconciliation on the island.

“It also presents an opportunity for our people to learn and build understanding about the Orange Order,” he said.

Leader of the Seanad, Senator Maurice Cummins, said members passed a recommendation by a committee on procedure and privileges.

“The address will be both momentous and timely and proves that we have all moved forward in our ideas and ideals since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement,” he said.

“Seanad Éireann was established in 1922 to represent all the views of the people on the island of Ireland and I cannot think of a more appropriate person to be invited to address us at this time.”

Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin described it as an important moment for the country.

“It further strengthens the relationship and respect that continues to grow amongst all communities on our island,” he said.

“As a republican party we will always believe in and work towards a united Ireland.”

He maintained Fianna Fail will work day and night to fulfil the republican ideal of uniting Protestant, Catholic and dissenter.

“The end of violence North and South is not the end of the peace process,” he added.

“We must continue to work to realise the great potential of this island.”

Mr Nesbitt, who reflected on his previous role as Commissioner of Victims and Survivors, said the long-running conflict has left scars in communities and within families that have transcended generations.

He also maintained it was the duty of politicians to stem the deep-rooted segregation and pointed to housing and education where progress in creating a “shared rather than a shared-out future” can be made.

Joanna Tuffy, committee chair, said it was a hugely positive development.

“While acknowledging the achievements since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the committee agrees with Mr Nesbitt that there remains unresolved and unfinished business,” she added.