Robert Saulters steps down as head of Orange Order

image captionRobert Saulters presided over one of the most difficult periods in the institution's history

The grand master of the Orange Order is to step down after 14 years.

Robert Saulters became grand master at the height of the Drumcree dispute in 1996. Orangemen have been prevented from walking down the Garvaghy Road since 1998.

He headed an orange delegation to meet Cardinal Brady, the Irish government and the SDLP.

Mr Saulters refused to meet with Sinn Fein and the Parades Commission.

In July, the Orange Order rejected proposed legislation to deal with contentious parades.

The proposals contained in the Draft Public Assemblies Bill had been agreed by the DUP and Sinn Fein.

They were rejected by 37 votes to 32 by members of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland in July.

Following the vote, the Minister of State, Hugo Swire said there was "no alternative but to press on with making new appointments to the Parades Commission in time for next year's marching season".

Under Mr Saulter's leadership the order severed its official link with the Ulster Unionist party.

However he recently called for unionist unity, a stance that was criticised by fellow grand lodge member Tom Elliott, before he became Ulster Unionist leader.

Robert Saulters also controversially signed Ian Paisley's election nomination papers and was criticised for a recent article in which he claimed dissident republican groupings were just fancy names for what he called the "Roman Catholic IRA."

Order sources said neither that controversy, nor the recent death of his wife, are the reasons he is stepping down.

The favourite to succeed him is Edward Stevenson, the County Grand Master of Tyrone.

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