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Wednesday, April 15, 1998 Published at 21:44 GMT 22:44 UK

Orange Order rejects settlement
image: [ The leaders of the Orange Order say many of its members have already made up their mind ]
The leaders of the Orange Order say many of its members have already made up their mind

The Orange Order has rejected the Northern Ireland political settlement as it stands.

Tony Blair says there were people who were against the settlement even before it was drawn up
Leaders of the Order, which represents 30,000 Protestants, said the deal was not a package they could recommend to the people of the province.

The decision came hours after the leader of the loyalist Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the Rev Ian Paisley, said the Stormont settlement was "a complete and total sell-out" and a "betrayal of the union".

He called on all unionists to join the struggle to save the "very lifeblood" of the province.

[ image: Orangemen on one of their annual parades]
Orangemen on one of their annual parades
The rejections are a major blow to Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader David Trimble, who faces a struggle to secure the support of his party's membership ahead of the May 22 referendum.

On Saturday he will try to sell the settlement to the Ulster Unionist Council. The Orange Order has 200 council delegates - a quarter of the votes.

Reg Empey, one of the UUP's senior talks negotiators, has said the party will have no choice but to reject the peace blueprint if the council votes against it.

The Grand Orange Lodge's 120 members met for more than six hours in Belfast on Wednesday to discuss the Good Friday settlement.

George Patton says this is not a deal for the Orange Order
The Order's chief executive, George Patton, left saying members demanded clarification on two critical areas - the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons and the release of paramilitary prisoners - before they were prepared to back the deal.

But he warned it was unlikely they would support the settlement, whatever the outcome.

"The Grand Lodge has said today that they take note of the acceptance of the document by the parties," said Mr Patton.

The BBC's Tom Coulter explains the Orange Order's fears
"But failing clarification of certain vital issues we cannot recommend it to the people."

[ image: Mr Patton: Stormont agreement
Mr Patton: Stormont agreement "not something for us"
Mr Patton added that the Grand Lodge was also concerned about the future of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which faces an independent commission - a demand made by Sinn Fein during multi-party talks.

He said London did not appear willing to talk to the Order and the views of many of the province's Orangemen were already decided.

Mr Patton added: "The consensus of opinion that came across (in the meeting) today was that this is not something for us."

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