Taoiseach makes historic visit to Orange Order HQ

Credit: UTV

Leo Varadkar has made a historic visit to the headquarters of the Orange Order in east Belfast, the first Taoiseach to do so.

It comes on a day of engagements, as the Irish Premier attempts to reach out to members from all communities in the province on Friday 8 June.

The Taoiseach kicked off the day with a private meeting with Baroness Paisley, the widow of former DUP leader Ian Paisley, and is scheduled to launch the Feile an Phobail festival in west Belfast later in the evening.

Speaking after meeting with senior Orangemen in Schomberg House, Varadkar said how he wants "to reach out to all of the different communities that are here in Northern Ireland.

"We share an island and I think we have so many different common interests and common concerns and the only future is one in which we work together."

He posed beside a sign commemorating the 1690 Battle of the Boyne and also paid respects at a memorial window dedicated to the 336 members of the organisation who were murdered during the course of the Troubles.

Mr Stevenson said: "We acknowledge this is a significant moment; as it is the first time a serving leader of the Republic of Ireland government has visited the headquarters of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland.

"As a cross-border organisation, we welcome the Taoiseach's direct engagement with our members based in the border counties of the Republic and, in so doing, recognising the longstanding cultural identity of the Orange family in the south.

"It is also important to acknowledge the importance of the Taoiseach paying his respects to those members of our institution, many of whom served in the security forces, who were murdered by terrorists.

"Such a gesture should not be underestimated and will, I believe, be deeply appreciated by many relatives of the deceased, and the Orange membership as a whole."