Holding a border poll on the future of Northern Ireland would only give nationalists false hope, the Orange Order’s deputy grand master has said.
Harold Henning made the claim as he addressed brethren at the Twelfth demonstration in Donaghcloney yesterday.
Thousands of spectators descended on the Co Down village to witness more than 100 lodges, accompanied by around 80 bands, take part in the annual procession.
Orangemen and women of host district Lower Iveagh West were joined by their contemporaries from nearby Banbridge, Bann Valley, Lower Iveagh, Rathfriland, Loughbrickland, Gilford and Newry.
The parade marked the culmination of the ‘Cloney Festival’, which incorporated a series of events and activities over five days in the lead-up to the Twelfth.
Alan Hudson, past district master of Lower Iveagh West District No 8, said the day had been “absolutely fantastic”.
“The village was lined four and five people deep in places. There were great crowds right through the centre of the village and right out to the demonstration field, which was great to see.
“The good weather was great for the Lambegs, as obviously they can’t play them in the rain. But with the weather being the way it was it meant all the lodges that play the drums were able to get them out, so there was a great turnout of Lambegs this year.”
Addressing brethren at the demonstration field, Mr Henning spoke about the importance of maintaining and strengthening the Union.
“Regarding a border poll, I have no doubt if such was held tomorrow, a clear majority would vote to retain the Union. All holding a poll would do, as presently envisaged, is give false hope to nationalists every seven years,” he said.
“It must be made clear to all, so there is no ambiguity and mixed messages – Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland is British and we all enjoy the benefits that flow from that. Northern Ireland is not for sale now – not in seven years or 77 years.
“Let’s lift our heads high and ignore the nationalist-tinged propaganda and the sabre rattling of republicans.
“Yes, we will cultivate good relations with our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland – it’s the right and proper thing to do on so many levels. But let no one confuse talking over the fence with taking away the fence.
“We recognise a sizeable minority of those who live in Northern Ireland seek a united Ireland, as is their democratic right in a free society. Let us also recognise that the vast majority of them had no truck with, and were rightly ashamed of those republicans who engaged in a sickening murderous campaign against their Protestant neighbours, whether in or out of uniform.
“There are people in the Roman Catholic community; in the new communities who have made Northern Ireland their home; people of faith; and those of no faith; who know and enjoy the benefits of the Union.
“For those who don’t, we need to share the values of the Union. We need, where and when it is appropriate, to make common cause with such people. Let’s sell Northern Ireland to all those who will listen.”
Appealing to people to share the message that “Northern Ireland makes sense – economically, socially, and in so many other ways”, Mr Henning urged those present to be “salespeople for the Union”.
“Leave today as proud Ulstermen and women; champions of our British way of life; and not whinging or moaning of what might happen. Such negativity only plays into the hands of the Brexit bluffers and the border poll dreamers,” he added.
Mr Henning concluded his speech by calling on Prime Minister Theresa May to set aside appropriate resources to allow Northern Ireland to celebrate the its centenary in 2021 in “a meaningful and substantial manner”.