Brethren, sisters, friends On behalf of the Independent Loyal Orange Institution, I want to extend to you all a warm welcome to our Twelfth demonstration here in Portglenone on this the 326th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne. I want to commend everyone who has taken part in the parade through the village, whether in the bands, drumming parties or as members of the Institution.

Our parade might not be the largest in the Province but what we might lack in quantity, we more than make up for in quality! I also want to thank our supporters and friends who lined the route – and can I appeal to you to consider membership? We would love to have you on board. Our Twelfth demonstrations don’t just happen without months of planning, and before I go any further I want to place on record my thanks to the brethren and sisters of Portglenone District for all their hard work. The Banntastic Festival has been a fantastic success! All involved should be proud of their efforts.

This is my first Twelfth since I was elected Imperial Grand Master of the Independent Loyal Orange Institution in January. I have been a member of the Institution for 39 years. I am totally committed to the independent cause and I feel humbled and honoured to have been chosen to be the Institution’s 30th Grand Master. With God’s help I will do all I can to promote the principles and objectives of this Institution, and provide sound, faithful and solid leadership in the days that lie ahead. I also want to pay tribute to my predecessor, Brother Alan McLean, for his five years of devoted service as Imperial Grand Master of this Institution. I have no doubt that brother McLean will continue to play a key role in the Institution, and I want to wish him well in his busy role as a councillor in the Causeway Coast and Glens Council. I am aware that I have taken up the reins of office in a very significant centenary year.

This is a decade of centenaries, but over the past few days we have been marking one of the most solemn and significant of all centenaries – the start of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916. I was privileged to visit the Battle site in June and lay a wreath on behalf of the Grand Lodge, I had visited other battle sites throughout France but I never felt as sombre as I did at the Somme site, the silence of the place was deafening, it really is a thought provoking place, one could almost feel the terror and fear which the men must have endured as they went over the top. Some of the events we saw on television– such as the one at the Ulster Tower at the Somme on the afternoon of 1 July – were extremely dignified and impressive. Letters from the period were read out, and I personally found the letter from a mother about her only son who had died especially moving. The Battle of the Somme lasted over four months, and the loss of life was on a scale never before seen. The great tragedy is that, in the scheme of things, it achieved so little. The men who were killed or injured on the first days of the Somme came from all over the UK and beyond. I am glad that, at last, the bravery of so many Irish nationalists – for so long airbrushed out by nationalist historians and politicians – is now being properly recognized. We salute their sacrifice. However, Ulster’s loss was of monumental proportions. Every city, town, village, hamlet and townland was affected. The Twelfth that year was cancelled. It is said that the whole of Ulster fell silent as the news broke, and that all that was heard was the weeping behind drawn shades. The sheer scale of the loss of so many young Protestant men was such that it altered the religious balance of Ulster and had a profound effect on our subsequent history. The sacrifices of the 36th (Ulster) Division meant that it would be impossible to impose Home Rule on Ulster.

One of the many heroes of the Somme was Sergeant Robert Quigg from Bushmills who was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery. Sergeant Quigg risked his own life going out into no-man’s land several times to bring back wounded comrades. It was fitting that, in this centenary year, a statue of Robert Quigg was unveiled in Bushmills last month by Her Majesty the Queen. The brave heroes of the Somme stand in sharp contrast with those who took part in another centenary event earlier this year. At a time when brave soldiers – from both traditions – were fighting for real freedom on the battle fields of Europe, some decided to rise up in rebellion in Dublin in the Easter Rising were remembered. These people have been lauded by some as heroes, but they were the enemies of real freedom and the enemies of civil and religious liberty. They took advantage of a world war to strike a blow against King and country. Their rising was a pathetic affair – but by their actions, they encouraged a mindset of violent rebellion which was to give birth some years later to the Provisional IRA and its campaign of terror. And what a price we paid for that campaign. Thousands of lives lost, maimed and scarred.

Thankfully we live in much more peaceful times nowadays, and Northern Ireland is moving forward. But the legacy of the Troubles, along with the rights and needs of victims, still presents us with major challenges. I want to touch on this for a few moments as it’s something I feel strongly about. Let’s just define a victim. A victim is not someone who was engaged in terrorism and was injured or killed as a result of that. That sort of person, far from being a victim, would in my eyes have to be defined as a criminal and a law-breaker. A victim is an innocent person who, through no fault of their own, has been affected in some way or another by an act of terrorism. Victims are those who were injured or bereaved by terrorists – and who carry the wounds and endure the pain every single day. I include among the victims the members of our security forces for they too were innocent. There are so many innocent victims – and they are crying out for justice. But the system still seems loaded against them. It seems to me that far more money and effort is expended on pursuing former members of the security forces than is put into securing justice for the innocent victims. Nearly every day we hear about some new demand for enquiries into the actions of the security forces. For example, it’s just been announced that the Police Ombudsman is to probe the death of the IRA’s Downpatrick commander, Colum Marks, during a mortar raid on the RUC in 1991. It’s alleged he was the victim of a shoot-to-kill policy. He had set out to kill when he died.

By contrast, the 10 Protestant workmen travelling home on 5 January 1976 in south Armagh were engaged in no crime when they were brutally massacred at Kingsmill. Forty years on, and no-one has been brought to account for this utterly dreadful crime. Relatives – who have carried the scars for 40 years – want justice and some sense of closure, and who can blame them? An Inquest which opened in May offered some hope, even though it re-opened many wounds – but it was suddenly adjourned eight days later after the PSNI announced that they had new forensic evidence. I welcome anything that will lead to a prosecution and conviction, but I question the timing of the police announcement. Meanwhile, the families are left wondering what on earth is going on. The News Letter on 30 June carried a headline about Mrs Jean Lemmon, whose husband was one of the Kingsmill victims. Mrs Lemmon is now 93 and very unwell. In a letter to the Inquest, she says, “I have suffered for over 40 years trying to get some justice or recognition in regards to what happened on that terrible night that wicked gunmen took my husband….I would certainly like to see this inquest over before I leave to be with the Lord…..I’d very much like to see those responsible held accountable before I pass on”. Those words say it all. There must be justice for the innocent. It is vital that those responsible for the slaughter of the innocent are brought to account. There are too many unsolved murders. I think not only of Kingsmill, but of Teebane and many other atrocities. I think too of the murders of the likes of Robert Bradford and Edgar Graham and countless others.

We are told that there are financial restraints when it comes to investigating and pursuing these matters. I don’t doubt that for one moment, but it’s interesting how public money can be found to prosecute Ashers bakery and Pastor James McConnell or to promote other aspects of the so-called “equality agenda”. I am glad that Pastor McConnell was acquitted – for any other verdict would not only have been a gross miscarriage of justice but it would have carried very serious implications for our civil and religious liberties. I am hoping and praying that the appeal by the McArthur family in the Ashers case will also prove to be successful. I urge you to keep praying too. As an Institution, we are totally and completely convinced that our society should be founded upon the Word of God. Sadly there are many today who believe that Biblical standards of morality have no place in a modern society. But we reject the Bible at our peril. We must continue to oppose all attempts to re-define marriage or to weaken the law on abortion. Marriage is a creation ordinance. It is between a man and a woman. Same sex marriage is more than same sex marriage. It is a redefinition of the whole basis of marriage and – as we are seeing already – it opens the flood-gates for all sorts of new definitions of gender and all sorts of new so-called “lifestyles”.

I urge all our MLAs who value marriage and the family to stand resolutely against all efforts to introduce same-sex marriage. The attempts to change our abortion law are also a serious cause for concern. This is a very sensitive issue, but when I hear about the rights of the mother in these cases, it saddens me that there seems to be so little concern for the rights of the unborn child. The debate can often be heated, but if we concede ground in areas such as severe foetal abnormality or rape, then it will only be a matter of time before there are further and more radical changes. Indeed, there are already voices calling for the introduction of the 1967 Abortion Act in Northern Ireland. Again, I urge our MLAs to oppose any weakening of our abortion law. Nationally, we are still coming to terms with the impact of the surprise result of EU referendum result. What a few weeks we have been through – and the drama continues! I was away at the time of the vote and was unable to vote but I would have voted to leave, simply because I feel that our nation needs to take control of its destiny and not be controlled by a bureaucracy in Europe. This was a UK referendum, but some are demanding that Scotland and Northern Ireland should be allowed to remain in the EU. As unionists, we reject such nonsense. This is a time for cool – and wise – heads on all sides. It is essential that the markets remain stable and that the negotiations to agree the terms of the UK exit begin as soon as possible. We are in uncharted waters, and we must be much in prayer for our nation in the days and weeks that lie ahead.

Yes, these are challenging times for our nation, but in the middle of all the uncertainties and changes, there is one person who symbolises stability, dignity and calmness – and that person is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. During her long reign – now the longest in British history – she has witnessed countless changes, and has seen many politicians rise and fall. We rejoice with her as she has reached her 90th birthday and wish her God’s richest blessings at this special time. We were delighted that she was able to visit Northern Ireland recently as part of her birthday celebrations, and that she retraced some of her steps from 1953 along the north coast. Her Majesty’s Christian faith is strong and she has set a fine example to her subjects. For example, in her Christmas broadcast in 2002, she said, “I know that the only way to live my life is to try to do what is right, to take the long view, to give of my best in all that the day brings, and to put my trust in God.” Wise words indeed – and ones that we would all do well to follow. As an Institution, we are committed to the defence and promotion of the Protestant faith. Our parades are religious parades. Our faith is central to our work and witness.

As I have already outlined in my speech, the Biblical foundations of our society are crumbling. It is vital that those of us who love the Bible and the God of the Bible do all we can to promote and defend Biblical teaching and standards. One area which is always highlighted in our resolutions is that of the Lord’s Day observance, we make no apology for this, it is one area where there has been an alarming slippage. Increasingly it is becoming more of a secular day. We must oppose this. I urge you to respect the Lord’s Day as a day set apart for the worship of God. Let us be sure to guard our own lives and to walk worthy of our calling. We must be diligent in our attendance at church, in our study of Scripture and in prayer. Each of us will one day give an account of ourselves to God. Each of us must be sure that our faith is in Christ and Christ alone for salvation. Let all of us – members, friends and supporters of this Institution – re-dedicate ourselves today to serve the Lord and to stand firm for our Protestant faith and principles in these days.

To finish I want us to think of the Orange Brethren who have still not been able to return to their lodge rooms after the 12th July – those in Portadown and at Twaddell in Belfast- it’s a pity that there are some in our society who see our tradition and cultures as offensive, I say to them Our Flag, Our culture, Our lifestyle and once you are done griping about them, then take up another great British freedom available to everyone THE RIGHT TO LEAVE. Time to call off the protests and let our brethren go home. Thank you.