The resignation of British prime minister Boris Johnson has left Northern Ireland in a “precarious situation” and could delay the restoration of Stormont, the grand secretary of the Orange Order has warned.
Rev Mervyn Gibson said it was “important” his replacement “understand the message … because there’s been too much procrastination over this last year or so regarding the protocol”.
Otherwise, he said, “while the protocol remains there’ll be no Northern Ireland Executive and we want to get government back in Northern Ireland as quickly as possible.”
Unionists oppose the Northern Ireland protocol — the part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement which avoided a hard border on the island of Ireland by placing an economic border in the Irish Sea.
The North has been without a functioning government since the May elections as the largest unionist party, the DUP, has refused to agree to its formation until its concerns over the protocol are dealt with.
“We had a prime minister [Boris Johnson] who initially betrayed us with the protocol and then decided he would fix it and that was a work in progress. It still had to be proved whether he would do that,” said Rev Gibson.
“Sadly, now we’re going to get a prime minister and we don’t know where they stand. Looking at all the candidates so far, there’s not too many who are what I would regard as strong unionists. And everyone says they want to realign themselves in their conversations and negotiations with Europe.”
The leading Orangeman was speaking to The Irish Times ahead of the annual Twelfth of July parades on Tuesday, when members of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland commemorate the victory of the Protestant King William III over the Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
The Orange Order estimates that about half a million people will attend the parades of lodges and bands which are due to take place at 18 locations across the North for the first time since before the Covid-19 pandemic.
“As always, we’re hoping for a sunny day,” said Rev Gibson. “This is the first normal Twelfth or traditional Twelfth [since 2019], we had the Twelfth at home and then the Twelfth near home last year so we’re bringing the Twelfth home to where it belongs … there seems to be a bigger appetite than usual to have the parades back on the streets again.
Describing it as the “pinnacle of the Orange calendar”, Rev Gibson said July 12th was “the day when all Orange men and women and bands go out and celebrate William’s victory at the Boyne which secured the glorious revolution. It’s not about going to put it up to any other community or denigrate anybody else’s culture, we’re celebrating our heritage and culture and the heritage that gave us all the freedoms we enjoy today.”
Yesterday Mid and East Antrim Council announced it had launched an investigation into the death of a man who fell from a bonfire built on council land.
John Steele died on Saturday after falling from the bonfire in the Antiville estate in Larne which was more than 50ft high.
An attempt to break the world record for the largest bonfire with a giant pyre in the nearby Craigyhill estate is to go ahead in Mr Steele’s memory with the support of his family.
More than 250 bonfires are due to be lit in loyalist areas as part of the “Eleventh Night” celebrations on Monday.