THE first union­ist elected to the Ir­ish Se­nate has re­vealed he was never tempted to join the Or­ange Or­der, and has voiced his support for same-sex mar­riage and a woman’s right to choose on abor­tion.

In a wide-rang­ing in­ter­view with the Belfast Tele­graph, Ian Mar­shall chal­lenged both the DUP and Sinn Fein to stretch them­selves po­lit­i­cally in or­der to re­store power-shar­ing.

He hit out at the DUP’s crit­i­cism of Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar and urged Sinn Fein to think again about tak­ing its seats in the House of Com­mons.

The for­mer Ul­ster Farm­ers’ Union pres­i­dent said he had no personal ob­jec­tion to an Ir­ish Lan­guage Act.

De­spite crit­i­cis­ing some in her party, Mr Mar­shall named DUP leader Ar­lene Fos­ter — along with Sinn Fein vice-pres­i­dent Michelle O’Neill — as the two lo­cal politi­cians who im­pressed him most. He said he found both women “straight-talk­ing” and be­lieved they could do busi­ness if hard­line el­e­ments in their par­ties let them.

Mr Mar­shall said the me­dia por­trayal of Mrs Fos­ter did not re­flect the woman he knew. He also said he un­der­stood why Sinn Fein politi­cians at­tended IRA com­mem­o­ra­tions but warned there was a dif­fer­ence be­tween “hon­our­ing the dead and glo­ri­fy­ing ter­ror­ism”.

The new se­na­tor was elected a fort­night ago af­ter be­ing nom­i­nated by Mr Varad­kar. Sinn Fein was among the par­ties sup­port­ing him.

Mr Mar­shall said he had met no hos­til­ity from within the union­ist com­mu­nity over his de­ci­sion to sit in the Oireach­tas.

The 49-year-old farmer from Mar­kethill said he had grown up in a “tra­di­tional, ru­ral Ul­ster Union­ist fam­ily”. His fa­ther was a farmer and his mother was a school-teacher.

He said: “When I was 17, I was ap­proached about join­ing the Or­ange Or­der. I told my mum I was com­ing un­der a bit of pres­sure and asked her for ad­vice. “She said nei­ther my dad nor my grand­dad had been mem­bers and she didn’t see the logic of me join­ing. Af­ter that, I was never tempted to join.

“Even at the height of the Trou­bles our house in south Ar­magh didn’t have a Union Jack fly­ing out­side when many oth­ers did.

“The feel­ing at home was that we didn’t have to put out a flag to prove we were good union­ists. We were strong enough in our union­ism not to do that.”

Mr Mar­shall re­called as a school­boy watch­ing from the play­ground as an IRA car bomb dev­as­tated Mar­kethill.

“We had fam­ily and friends serv­ing in the se­cu­rity forces, although thank­fully, none were killed,” he added.

The union­ist se­na­tor said he wouldn’t crit­i­cise Sinn Fein politi­cians like Ms O’Neill or new West Ty­rone MP Orfh­laith Be­g­ley for at­tend­ing IRA com­mem­o­ra­tions.

“They are per­fectly en­ti­tled to do so. Both communities must be given the space to re­mem­ber their dead,” he said.

“As a union­ist, I at­tend Re­mem­brance Sun­day events to com­mem­o­rate those killed in both World Wars and se­cu­rity force mem­bers who died in the Trou­bles.

“Repub­li­cans have the right to do ex­actly the same but I’d stress that it should be about com­mem­o­rat­ing the dead and not about glo­ri­fy­ing ter­ror­ism. Repub­li­cans must be mind­ful of other peo­ple’s opin­ions on this.”

Although deeply in­ter­ested in pol­i­tics, Mr Mar­shall said he never wanted to join any par­tic­u­lar po­lit­i­cal party as he was bet­ter placed to pro­mote the agri­food in­dus­try as an in­de­pen­dent voice.

He re­fused to rule out en­ter­ing North­ern Ire­land pol­i­tics when his term in the Se­nate ex­pires, although he re­gret­ted that pol­i­tics here was “too di­vided along or­ange and green lines”.

But voic­ing his ad­mi­ra­tion for Mrs Fos­ter, he said: “I worked with Ar­lene when she was En­ter­prise Min­is­ter and found her to be a warm, sin­cere per­son who wants to do the right thing.

“The me­dia car­i­ca­ture of her does not re­sem­ble the woman I know. She got a rough deal from sen­sa­tional press head­lines. The cover­age has been bru­tal and per­son­alised.

“Ar­lene hasn’t al­ways got it right as I think she’d ad­mit, but hind­sight is a won­der­ful thing and who among us couldn’t do bet­ter in fu­ture?

“I be­lieve she can work with Michelle O’Neill and that she would be a fine First Min­is­ter for both union­ists and na­tion­al­ists in North­ern Ire­land.”

Mr Mar­shall said he had worked with Ms O’Neill when she was Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter.

“I found her trust­wor­thy and prag­matic,” he said. “De­spite be­ing di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed to each other po­lit­i­cally, we had a frank, open and hon­est work­ing re­la­tion­ship.”

The se­na­tor, a staunch Re­mainer, was crit­i­cal of DUP MP Sammy Wil­son for brand­ing the Taoiseach “a nut­case” and ac­cus­ing Tanaiste Si­mon Coveney of “bel­liger­ent Brit-bash­ing” over Brexit.

“Such lan­guage is very dis­ap­point­ing and un­help­ful,” Mr Mar­shall said. “The Ir­ish government has no hid­den repub­li­can agenda. It doesn’t want the UK to leave the EU and be­lieves if it goes so­lu­tions which work in

❝ De­spite our op­pos­ing views, Michelle and I had a frank, open and hon­est work­ing re­la­tion­ship

Lon­don, Dublin and Belfast must be found. It’s an en­tirely rea­son­able po­si­tion.”

Mr Mar­shall backed same-sex mar­riage which he said would come “sooner rather than later” to North­ern Ire­land.

He also voiced support for re­peal­ing the eighth amend­ment in the Re­pub­lic’s con­sti­tu­tion and chang­ing abor­tion laws here.

“I have al­ways been pro­choice,” he said. “And as a hus­band and a fa­ther of two daugh­ter, women’s health and welfare is very im­por­tant to me.”

Mr Mar­shall said he was “blown away” by the warm wel­come he had re­ceived in the Se­nate. “No-one is in­ter­ested in re­li­gion. It’s all pol­i­tics with a cap­i­tal ‘P’,” he said.

“I also find Dublin a vi­brant, pro­gres­sive, hap­pen­ing, cos­mopoli­tan city and I want the same for Belfast.”

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