A senior figure in the Orange Order has told the Seanad that his organisation wants to see relationships between the communities on the island normalised.

Orange Order Grand Secretary Drew Nelson led a delegation of senior Orangemen into the Seanad this morning after an invitation  was issued following a unanimous vote last month.

He told senators that up until the recent past the Protestant community had suffered from a sectarian campaign carried out in the name of Irish republicanism.

He said things were changing and singled out the establishment of the Battle of the Boyne visitors centre and last year’s visit by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth as evidence of a more positive climate in the Republic.

But he warned senators that the issue giving rise to most concern for Orange Order members living here was cuts in funding for Protestant schools.

Mr Nelson claimed that in some border areas communities feared for their continued viability.

He also said the Orange Order would welcome the opportunity to parade in Dublin and insisted the organisation wanted to normalise relationships across the island.

He earlier denied that he would break the order’s long-standing practice of not talking directly to Sinn Féin, and that he would address Sinn Féin senators through the chair.

Mr Nelson rejected suggestions that the handshake between the Queen and Martin McGuinness last week was a signal that the order should change its stance.

He told RTÉ that "Rome wasn't built in a day" and that the organisation would proceed at a pace that it deemed appropriate.

The leaders of the five groups in the Seanad, and a Sinn Féin senator, are being given time to respond to Mr Nelson's remarks.

In a statement, Cathaoirleach of the Seanad Senator Paddy Burke said the address was "another step on the path to sustained peace and reconciliation on our island".

Leader of the Seanad Senator Maurice Cummins said it was both momentous and timely.

He added that the address proves that we have all moved forward in our ideas and ideals since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.