THE Orange Order have come out on the Twelfth in support the ‘Raze The Maze’ petition launched by unionists.
And during speeches at Twelfth demonstrations across Northern Ireland, Orange Order leaders said it wanted the Maze demolished so as it would not become a terrorist shrine.
Unionism is split over the peace and conflict resolution centre at the Maze.
The DUP supports Sinn Fein on the plans.
However, the Ulster Unionist Party, the TUV and UKIP are firmly against the plans and have raised over 10,000 signatures to a petition launched in opposition.
Orange Grand Master Edward Stevenson led the organisation’s opposition to the Maze centre.
Mr Stevenson was one of five senior Orange figures to defend the order’s opposition to the DUP and Sinn Fein Maze proposals.
In June, when the Orange Order took the rare step of coming down firmly on one side of a debate which divides unionism, the DUP hit back, saying it was “mystified” by the “unwise” decision.
Then DUP MLA Jimmy Spratt made his “nutters” comment about Maze opponents.
He at first denied using it. Then attempted to stop it being reported by using legal threats before being disproved by an audio recording and apologising.
During Twelfth platform speeches on Friday across Northern Ireland, there was a firm response from the Orange Order.
Speaking at the flagship Twelfth demonstration, Grand Master Edward Stevenson said:
“The Orange Order will always stand up for the rights and entitlements of innocent victims,” said the 57-year-old Tyrone farmer.
“That is the reason why we make no apology for expressing our opposition to the proposed construction of a so-called Conflict Resolution Centre at the Maze.
“We will simply not countenance the very real prospect of a terrorist shrine manifesting itself at the very site, where those who inflicted nothing but anguish and sorrow upon the law-abiding majority, were quite rightly incarcerated for their horrific crimes.
“I want to make clear that the Orange Institution is not being party political on this emotive and sensitive issue.
“We do not believe we are ‘nutters’ but rather are merely expressing the legitimate viewpoint of those most directly affected by our troubled past.”
Deputy Grand Master the Rev Alistair Smyth told a demonstration in Bangor: “The term ‘nutters’ was used recently by Jimmy Spratt to insult all those who have been campaigning against the proposed Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre at the former Maze Prison, and of course the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland has expressed its opposition to this project.”
Highlighting that the term ‘Christian’ had started as an insult and that David Trimble had claimed that it was “headbangers” who were opposed to Orangemen being allowed to attend Roman Catholic funerals, the Rev Smyth added: “Well, if others use these terms then I am humbly proud to be a Christian, a headbanger and a nutter.”
The Deputy Grand Master said that the views of victims of terrorism must be “paramount” in deciding whether a peace centre should be built at the Maze and warned that such a centre would “inevitably further the efforts of those who effectively wish to re-write history by equating the perpetrators of violence with innocent victims”.
He added: “Therefore we in the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland once again call on all our Unionist elected representatives, even at this late stage, not to proceed with this flawed and fundamentally ill-conceived project.”
County Tyrone Deputy Grand Master Perry Reid told the Donemana demonstration that “the controversial flying of the Union Flag on our public buildings [and] the proposed Peace and Conflict Resolution centre at the Maze are but two of an underlying devious plan by republicans and nationalists to erode every aspect of our Britishness from every day life in Northern Ireland”.
Deputy Grand Lecturer the Rev Alan Irwin told crowds in Ballinamallard: “The pontificating and innuendoes surrounding the controversial decision to build a Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre in close proximity to the former Maze Prison near Lisburn lacks any level of respect, understanding and sensitivity towards innocent victims of terrorism.
“One wonders why those who claim to stand up for the innocent victims of terrorism can so easily forget their promises by throwing their backing behind such a controversial issue.
“It was blatantly obvious that there would be opposition to such a proposal, just as there would be if the decision had been to build it on the site of a former army base or RUC station.
“Is there some hidden agenda, secret deal upon which all this hinges on?”
The Grand Treasurer, Jack Greenald, said from the platform in Carnlough that republicans would attempt to use the Maze “to equate the perpetrators of violence with innocent victims” and said he supported the Orange opposition to the proposal.
Quoting DUP MP Nigel Dodds, who said that “However it is dressed up, whatever spin is deployed, the preservation of a section of the H-Blocks – including the hospital wing – would become a shrine to the terrorists who committed suicide in the Maze in the 1980s”, Mr Greenald compared the situation at the Maze to that at Spandau Prison where after the death of Rudolf Hess the Germans demolished the site to prevent it becoming a shrine for neo-Nazis.
He added: “All materials from the demolished prison were either ground to powder and dispersed in the North Sea or buried in the ground. The same policy must be adopted with the Maze Prison.”