Chairman hosts reception in honour of Stuart Brooker
26th March 2019
Chairman of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, Councillor Howard Thornton, hosted a reception in honour of Stuart Brooker on Thursday 7 March 2019 at Enniskillen Townhall.
Speaking at the reception, Councillor Thornton said, “As Chairman of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, I am delighted to be here this evening to host a reception for Stuart Brooker the past and outgoing County Grand Master of the Orange Order here in Fermanagh. This is a civic event held to recognise your time as County Grand Master and the work you have been engaged in to promote greater understanding and better relationships with the wider community throughout our district. As the current first citizen of Fermanagh & Omagh District, I am delighted to honour your past and continuing work in this way.
I have known Stuart for many years. Probably too many to mention. Both Stuart and I attended Portora Royal School at the same time and I can remember him well as a reasonably quiet well disposed young man who always had a pride in appearance – even in the short trousers we had to wear at Gloucester House. Looking at him today many years later Stuart has obviously had a fairly stress free life with his full head of hair and grooming. The opposite may apply to myself.
But back to why we are here tonight. Let us look at Stuart’s rise within the ranks of the Orange Order.
Having joined the Orange Order in 1975 and a member of Devenish Star of Freedom LOL 1598, a private lodge, belonging to Magheraboy District LOL No. 11 Stuart served as Secretary, Deputy Master and subsequently Worshipful Master in your own lodge. This was later followed by similar posts in Maheraboy District Lodge.
Stuart was elected as Deputy County Grand Master in November 2008 where you remained until 2013. In November 2013 you were then elected as County Grand Master until your recent replacement in late 2018.
I understand that you currently hold one of only two posts as Assistant Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Ireland. This post is an appointment by the Grand Master himself to assist the Grand Master in his duties, stand in for him as required and also to be part of the senior management team that runs the overall organisation.
Working with the main Protestant churches and Earl Storey, a Churches Group was created. In a joint initiative and working in partnership, a number of events were organised. I understand the first of these was ‘Recession Busters.’ This consisted of a series of 5 events within Fermanagh during 2011. Like trade fairs these provided advice stations as well as specialist speakers to those struggling with financial hardships, due to the recession.
Stuart you have spoken many times of the Orange Order reaching out to the wider community and particularly nationalists in a spirit of openness and goodwill.
In 2012 whilst as Deputy County Master and under the then County Grand Master Rt Wor Brother Norman Johnston, it was decided to conduct an internal and external audit of the Orange Order within the County. This was perhaps unthinkable to some at that time but was progressed – listening to views of members as well as giving the wider public the opportunity to share their observations of the Institution. Reading the foreword to the Audit, Good Relations strategy and action plan I note the comments of Ruth Dudley Edwards
“It is no surprise to learn that it is once again Fermanagh that is showing the Orange Order how to take positive steps to improve community relations. At a time when others are creating difficulties for the institution, it is heartening to see a County admired for its decency, neighbourliness and Christian principles showing leadership”.
This was a remarkable piece of work and the action plans needed to be implemented if the project was to bear fruit.
I am aware that many others were very much involved in this project but actions fell to you as the then County Grand Master if such an initiative was to indeed bear fruit.
To help further this you engaged with the then Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers and the Republic of Ireland Minister of Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan.
A series of ‘Making History Talk’ events took place looking at the Ulster Covenant, the outbreak of WW1, the Easter Rising, The Battle of the Somme and the end of World War One.
In October 2016 I was present in the Killyhevlin Hotel when the talk was provided on the Easter Rising. This was a very well attended event, open to all, and with some very creditable speakers. There was also some notable attendees including Nationalist elected representatives who spoke from the floor. Whilst their interpretation of some of the events differed to no-one’s surprise, they did congratulate the Orange Order in County Fermanagh and the Protestant sections of the community for organising the discussion.
Over recent years there have been cross-border visits involving Southern Irish civic leaders to Ballinamallard, Lisbellaw and Lisnaskea 12th demonstrations. The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee was also present at Maguiresbridge.
At a cross-border meeting that I was involved in last year a Sligo Councillor informed me of being present at the Ballinamallard 12th July parade and how he had greatly enjoyed a family day out. I have no doubt the good these types of initiatives do fulfill.
More recently I was asked to assist in the launch of the ‘From Grey to Orange’ exhibition held in the Castle Museum, Enniskillen last summer. You played a key role in organising this event on the request of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council.
Finally, I will conclude by saying that you have played a significant role in demystifying the Orange Order here in County Fermanagh. Being open, frank and principled to your core values is a sign of a great leader. Providing better understanding and encouraging community relations will only enhance the organisation that you continue to hold such high office. You have been a fantastic ambassador for the Orange Order and the council district as a whole.”.