11 July 2017
Speaking before the annual 12th July parades DUP Leader Arlene Foster said ,
Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and First Minister of Northern Ireland
"I would like to wish everyone a peaceful and enjoyable Twelfth. Tens of thousands will be on the streets across Northern Ireland in a wonderful spectacle of music, colour and pageantry. I was delighted to be part of the huge crowds on Saturday in Rossnowlagh, to celebrate with the Lodges and bands from the Republic of Ireland and those from Northern Ireland who travel every year to support them. The relaxed, family atmosphere there is a wonderful example of what so many of us know the Twelfth to be like.
Bonfires on the eleventh night have long been part of the unionist culture. Those who have waged a campaign of demonisation against such celebrations should dial down the rhetoric. To those who build bonfires, I urge them to not play into the hands of those who want to demonise the culture. They should be respectful of their neighbours. Endangering property and lives should not be a concern for residents on the eleventh night. These should be events that all the family can enjoy. We will work constructively with communities to achieve this.
The Orange Institution is part of the fabric of our society and I would hope that we can move forward to a point where expressions of Orange culture can not only be free from attack, but can be supported and respected by all in our society. I do not want any culture to threaten or dominate any other. A shared society in Northern Ireland must have room for all but without elevating or promoting one section of society above another.
Those are principles that I have been seeking to promote in the talks which have been ongoing since the Assembly election in March. I want to see devolution restored in Northern Ireland. It is right that locally elected representatives, from all sides of our community should be taking decisions on issues like health, education and economic development. Those are the issues that matter most to our society and I believe that message received a resounding endorsement at the General Election in June.
It is not the unionist community or any unionist party that stands in the way of restoring devolution in Northern Ireland. Many within the Orange tradition recoginse the importance that the Irish language plays in the lives of some people in Northern Ireland. It is a valuable part of our society and must be respected, but other cultures and traditions deserve similar respect and support. It is deeply unfortunate that devolution has been held to ransom by republicans using the Irish language for narrow political advantage.
Many Lodges played a positive role, through encouraging people to get on the electoral register and then to use their vote, that helped deliver a very positive result for unionism. The overall unionist vote increased by around 6% from the Assembly election just a few months earlier. The unionist community has realised the importance and power of voting. I thank them for their support and hope this will continue into the future. It is through the power of individuals casting their vote that our cherished place within the United Kingdom will be protected and enhanced.
Despite the image sometimes portrayed, it is not politics that dominates the 12th July however. It is the families who come together as they have done for generations. It is the acquaintances that are refreshed in the field or on the street. It is the celebration of civil and religious liberty and the centrality of faith to the Orange Institution which are far more important.
I would hope that everyone will enjoy the Twelfth celebrations, both those who do so every year, and perhaps others who will explore this part of our culture and heritage for the first time. Hopefully we can all help build a Northern Ireland where there is respect, tolerance and support for all our cultures and traditions, celebrated equally with one another."