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16 July 1998 Edition

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Has the Orange a future?

Brian Campbell examines the crisis facing the Orange Order and asks, are they capable of change?

There was a period of a few hours on Sunday when the Orange Order could have stepped away from an unwinnable war. It could have beaten a tactical retreat and gathered strength because of it.

Instead, the Orange Order as a whole showed itself to be incapable of sense or decency.

You could almost say it is not the Orange Order's fault because that is the type of organisation it is. No-one really expected the sectarian deaths of three children to change the course of an organisation so steeped in sectarian fundamentalism - both political and religious.

But that is to misunderstand how political groupings change and to forget that the Orange Order has changed radically at different times in Irish history. The events of the last week represent another deep crisis for the Orange Order which look set to change it profoundly once more.

     
The events of the last week represent another deep crisis for the Orange Order which look set to change it profoundly once more
The crisis is most clearly evident in a deep split at leadership level. The divisions have been articulated so far by a representative group of the Order's chaplains (an important group; after all, it claims to be a religious organisation) and by the Portadown district, which is the hardline heartland. One wants the Drumcree protest to end; the other wants to carry on. Both claim to be the upholders of Orange principles.

Of course, as the world changes principles can become millstones. There was a time when the Orange Order barred Presbyterians from membership until, in 1834, as Catholics agitated for greater political power, the Orange leadership sought Protestant unity in order to safeguard their interests. Thus the landed Anglican leadership of the Orange Order co-opted the Presbyterians.

Today, Orangemen have other principled positions, such as refusing to talk to ``convicted terrorists''. It is such an unbelievably hollow position. Every July in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh wings full of ``convicted terrorists'' construct Orange arches, fashion homemade sashes and drums and hold Orange marches complete with flute bands, while outside Orange Lodges march up to the prison walls and play Lambeg drums long into the night. Every Twelfth UDA and UVF bands parade with Orange Lodges for all the world to see (the best place to see is on BBC television where live coverage includes discussion of the significance of particular flowers in Orange lapels while the representatives of sectarian death squads fill the screen).

The Orange Order and loyalist killers are well acquainted. Everyone knows and it is an obvious indictment of the Irish and British media that they have not firmly nailed this pathetic excuse for refusing to talk to nationalists.

Other principled Orange positions have changed with the ebb and flow of social forces in Ireland. Indeed, there have been some remarkable changes. For example, in its early history, the Orange Order was at one time anti-Unionist. Peter Berresford Ellis, in his excellent Connolly Association pamphlet, Orangeism: Myth and Reality, explains:

``The first attempt to pass an Act of Union in the Irish Parliament in 1799 was...easily rejected. Lecky, the Unionist historian, points out that there is no record of a single Orange Lodge favouring the Union. There were nineteen leaders of the Order in senior positions in the Dublin parliament and seventeen voted against the Union.

``As Grand Master of the Orange Order, [John Claudius] Bereford, for example, must have bemused survivors of the United Irish when he seemed to support their position on independence by declaring that the Union with England would `see the destruction of the country'. He went on: `Proud of the name of Irishman, I hope never to... see my country governed by laws enacted by a parliament over which she can have no control... (the proposed Union was) a measure so destructive of their commerce and prosperity, and so humiliating to their pride as a nation.'

A combination of bribery and the threat of coercion persuaded most of the Orange leaders to change their minds and vote for the Union. Nevertheless, ``all the Orange Lodges of the nine Ulster counties organised a meeting and issued the declaration that the proposed Union would bring `inevitable ruin to the peace, prosperity and happiness of Ireland.''' How right they were.

A short time after this, we are told, the Orange Order held their first march from Drumcree Church.

How times change. And they are changing once again. Two underlying realities have produced the current crisis within the Orange Order. The first is the increasing numbers and confidence of nationalists in the Six Counties. At Drumcree there was a placard written by an Orangeman. `Croppies lie down', it read and it can only have produced defiant laughter among nationalists. No longer is the Six Counties a Protestant state for a Protestant people. Some Orangemen see that. And some don't.

Of course the increasing numbers and confidence do not always easily translate into that defiant laughter. It has taken great courage for the people of Portadown's Garvaghy Road to stand up to Orange sectarianism. Their bravery will guarantee a better future for everyone.

The second (connected) reality is the existence of the Good Friday Agreement and the results of the consequent referendum and elections. They have changed the political landscape entirely. In particular, the political strength of nationalists and republicans has created institutions which will pursue equality and create an all-Ireland focus.

Crucially, the only serious opposition to this new political project is gathered together in the Orange Order and the other loyal institutions. For many of them, their stand at Drumcree is aimed squarely at the Agreement and at its equality agenda.

To the British government, it is also aimed squarely at their rule of law. It is difficult to see how Tony Blair could do anything but face down the Orange Order.

Ironically, by doing that, he also exposed their sectarian, supremacist agenda. When that inevitably led to Catholic deaths - heartbreakingly, they were the deaths of three small boys - the Orange Order was shamed before the entire world.

David Trimble saw immediately what it meant and called for the Drumcree protest to end. It probably saved his political career. He is set on a protracted rearguard action through the political process rather than any apocalyptic confrontation.

Others have not been so smart and they are continuing their protest while denying any responsibility for the deaths. Once again it is an unbelievably hollow position. It is not as if they didn't have the experience of three previous Drumcree protests when hundreds of nationalist homes were also firebombed and when loyalist violence was widespread. They knew the same would happen this year and they did nothing to stop it, not even at Drumcree itself. Sectarian violence was very much part of the Drumcree protest.

There are those who have sought to defend the Orange Order. Most prominent and impassioned among them is Ruth Dudley Edwards, a Dublin-born revisionist historian who now lives in London. Her constant refrain is that the Orangemen are decent people who feel frightened and lost in the face of current political change. She sees in them people who have stood against the ``fascist thugs'' of republicanism and who now face the prospect of those enemies being allowed into government and being released from prison.

Her articles and media appearances have been like a cry for help born out of frustration. She lashes out at Breandan Mac Cionnaith as if he is responsible for all the Orange Order's ills. In reality, Ruth Dudley Edwards is defending the indefensible. It is neither here nor there that Orangemen are ``decent'' individuals. I can readily accept that many of them are. It is maybe more difficult to accept that many of them believe they are part of an organisation which practices civil and religious liberty, but many of them undoubtedly do believe it. The problem is that they are utterly wrong, as a quick look at the history and practices of the Orange Order will confirm.

Their origins are as an anti-Catholic force, set up to further the interests of the Ascendancy. By word and deed they have constantly defined themselves in terms of anti-Catholicism and at times they have been a useful tool to further British interests in Ireland. In modern times there could not be a single adult nationalist in the Six Counties whose experience of them is not as a sectarian organisation.

Decent people, by giving allegiance to the Orange Order, are being sectarian.

Now, in their new-found isolation, the Orange Order should reassess their position in the modern world. Whose interests do they now serve? As their old certainties crumble round them - both within politics in Ireland and the British monarchy - can they come to terms with change? Or will they remain true to form and continue to be a reactionary bulwark against progressive politics in Ireland? We may know soon enough.

 

The price of justice



BY SEAN BRADY

A week and a half after the Orangemen were prevented from marching down the Garvaghy Road, the splits within unionism and the Orange Order are wide open and the focus of much debate.

The fundamentally sectarian nature of the Orange Order and those unionists who are imbued with the philosophy of Orangeism has been exposed to millions around the world. The unremitting violence perpetrated against nationalist communities across the Six Counties which has accompanied the Drumcree stand-off has flashed the true nature of Orange supremacy to television screens everywhere..

What has also been exposed is the conditional loyalty of unionism to the British state, a fact underlined by the nightly television coverage of bomb and gun attacks against the RUC at Drumcree. This has always been the underlying reality of `Ulster loyalism'. Such loyalty is dependent on the British state upholding a system of first and second-class citizenship in the Six Counties. As long as Protestants and Unionists are allowed to have advantages above and beyond what their nationalist neighbours can expect they will be loyal. If this privilege is in any way threatened, sections of unionism will engage in open and violent confrontation against the state.

Divisions within the Church of Ireland are opening up as Drumcree highlights the contradictions of that Church giving support to an organisation many of whose members seem bent on maintaining division and fostering hatred of their neighbours and dragging the name of Protestantism into the mire.

Many Church of Ireland members, particularly in the 26 Counties are angry at the manner in which Church of Ireland property such as the church at Drumcree has been used as a launching pad for loyalist violence. They are severely critical of the stance of the Church of Ireland leadership in the face of the Drumcree situation. The dithering and ambivalence of Church of Ireland Primate Dr Robin Eames in particular has come in for heavy criticism and many see his eventual appeal for the Orangemen at Drumcree to go home as `too little, too late'. Debate is opening up around the issue of the Church of Ireland, which claims members across the 32 Counties, being so closely associated in a formal and symbolic sense with one particular political outlook.

People in the 26 Counties have watched the developing situation at Drumcree with growing disgust. Opinion towards the Orange Order and the unionists supporting the Portadown Orangemen has soured by the day, effectively sidelining Orange apoligists in the Southern media. But nothing could have prepared anyone for the horror of the deaths in Ballymoney.

Outrage has accomapanied the Ballymoney murders across Ireland and the feelings of disgust have intensified as Ian Paisley and other loyalists claim it had nothing to do with Drumcree.

It appears that in Britain also people have been further alienated from the North and from unionists in particular by the events of the past week or so.

Republicans and nationalists need to understand what is happening within unionism. The British government is now bound by the terms of the Good Friday Agreement to pursue equality of treatment within the Six Counties. This means further confrontation with reactionary Orange unionism, because an equality agenda is fundamentally at odds with that philosophy. Divisions within the unionist camp will increasingly crytstallise around the terms of the Agreement. A section of unionism has decided that the Agreement and what it represents is a bridge too far. They are now fighting a rearguard action which is only beginning. Their strategy may develop in the weeks and months ahead and Jeffrey Donaldson's call for a new unionist movement is part of that realignment. As well as political tactics, violence will form a major part in the strategy of the anti-Agreement unionists. Such violence is aimed at influencing the British government into backing down from progress as it has done many times in the past and at terrorising nationalists into surrendering their demands for justice.

The anti-agreement unionists must feel they do have advantages in that many within the crown forces, the civil service, obviously the Orange order and many other sections of public life in the Six Counties are sympathetic to them.

Those unionists who have reluctantly supported the Agreement and are being slowly and, painfully for them, pulled along the road of change have difficult days ahead and nationalists and republicans must understand that. However nationalists cannot allow the equality agenda or the development of all-Ireland structures to be frozen in time. Progress must be pursued at all levels.

What will not work is attempts to have things both ways and to present and package what is happening in a way which distorts the truth. This is what the Parades Commission did in the trade-off they practised in relation to their decision on the Orange march down Belfast's Ormeau Road. Such regressive decisions are just delaying the day when unionists come to terms with the changing political landscape around them.

The murders of children in Ballymoney, the pogroms against isolated nationalist families and the dire threats being issued on a daily basis are the price ordinary people are being forced to pay for the rights which people across Western Europe, in Britain and in the 26 Counties take for granted. It is a price they should not have to pay. The road to freedom and justice is paved with danger but it is one which should not be walked by the nationalist community in the Six Counties alone. All democrats should stand together in support of the nationalist community's right to safety and security and in support of political change so that the events of the past week can be a milestone on the journey to an Ireland where sectarianism and political violence is consigned to the past.

 

Rotten Oranges in a bad basket



by Meadbh Gallagher

Whenever a bit of scheming led to a hollow victory in the fields where I come from, the schemers would always emerge from whatever field it was with whispered sniggers of ``We've bested them now, for sure''. In that moment, besting them now meant besting them forever, and there was no talk of an end to it at all.

The victory stood as long as it stayed secret; by claiming it you lost it; by sharing in it, your prize was to be a co-conspirator next time round.

It must have been with a similar sense of self-delusion that Orangemen, and women who support Orangemen, and media and politicians who have rejoiced in the little territorial victories of Orangemen, entered into in the last fortnight. A kind of hushed Here We Go, Here We Go, Here We Go for the bowler hat brigade.

By last Wednesday night, the Orange Order's David MacNarry felt sufficiently secure to strut his stuff from a studio in Belfast, from where he talked down to RTÉ and Breandán Mac Cionnaith on the Garvaghy Road. It was then he compared Garvaghy Road residents to animals that had to be caged.

He also admitted that the Order had set up a strategy group to oversee their promised victory in Drumcree `98. It took another day before he issued the threat to bring the place to a standstill ``within hours'' unless they got their way.

But McNarry's loose cannnon fire was nothing to the deliberate obfuscation by the Portadown Lodge press spokesperson Mr David Jones, nor the practised, soft spoken bigotry of Mr Joel Patton.

There they were, notching up yet more credits, as each reasonable RTÉ reporter or press journalist let them get away with each `reasoned' reply.

By the end of the week, without the murders that inevitably followed, the population of RTÉ land were getting their best education in years on just where the problems lay and how weak the media is in separating the wood from the trees.

For while the Irish and international media were busy taking their usual softly, softly approach to Orange terror, the avalanche of incidents meant news was filtering through of roads being blocked, homes burnt out, and people intimidated and scared.

By the time the heartache of Sunday morning came, we all must have known it was going to happen.

Self-delusion did not end on Sunday morning for David Jones or David McNarry, but it might well have ended for all those co-conspirators who, whether they wanted to or not, shared the scent of fenian blood with those who brought us Ballymoney.

And it might have ended also for a southern population whose calculated ignorance on all things northern has brought them this nightmare.

 

A variation of the same old history



By Mary Nelis

The essayist Robert Lynd once wrote that all history is but a repetition of the same story, with variations.

I remembered this, as I listened to a Housing Executive official recount the difficulties of rehousing Catholic families, expelled from their homes in what is termed as mixed areas, by the annual pogroms surrounding the marching season. The Belfast Newsletter carried a description of such a situation:

``In Donegall Street yesterday, about 7 o'clock, and we can assure readers that this is no isolated instance, but one typical of the scenes all over the City, vast numbers of people were expelled from houses. A poor man, was going along with a handcart with some miserable furniture, a friend trudged behind carrying a clock, while the man's wife carried a child in one arm and a looking glass in the other''.

The Newsletter was reporting events in Belfast in 1872, when Catholic families were terrorised out of their homes by Orange mobs led by Rev Hugh Hanna.

The paper could be talking of events this week, when Orange mobs, no doubt under the influence of another Reverend, are once again rearranging housing estates to reflect the sectarian mindset of extreme Unionism.

As Robert Lynd wrote, it is the same story with variations. The tragedy of the deaths of the Quinn children was a tragedy waiting to happen. Once again Catholic families had their homes attacked, petrol bombed, windows broken; bullets were sent through the post to the Catholics living in the Carnany estate in Ballymoney. It's not the first time, nor will it be the last, when the petrol bomb has been used as a form of ethnic cleansing, for the history of the segregated housing estates in the North is the history of the creation of the ghetto, where the Orange rules of exclusion - No Catholics here - keeps alive the notion of the Protestant State for a Protestant people.

Fr Des Wilson wrote some time ago of his heartbreak and frustration as he watched those with vested interests drive apart the community groups which came together spontaneously to create a better life for all. As he pointed out, Catholic and Protestant people had always found ways of coming together, whether in their own homes, through socialism or campaigning on issues of political vetting, lack of work, or resousces.

In the 60s in Derry, Protestant and Catholic set up the first integrated community groups and indeed raised money for the first cardiac ambulance. Despite the best efforts of Unionist politicians to divide them, the Tenants Associations in Creggan, The Fountain and Irish Street began to challenge the status quo in a way never done before. It was not to last as the various institutions of the Stormont regime, backed up by the RUC and B Specials, ensured that peaceful agitation for social and economic change would be crushed and the apartheid system of Government would once again create divisions between the people.

In the Creggan Estate in Derry, Rev Clergymen from various denominations visited, some for the first time, the Protestant residents of the estate and exhorted them to leave. Many did, and Creggan became a British prison camp for its Catholic inhabitants, surrounded on all sides by military checkpoints and camps.

The unholy alliance, of church and state, the Government Ministers of the Stormont regime, the puppets of Westminster once again overruled the wishes of the people.

If polarisation of the Protestant and Catholic communities has been the norm for the past 30 years, the people are not to blame.

Drumcree is the last stand of those with vested interests to prevent the people of no property, the Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter, from coming together in a national and social revolutionary movement. In such a situation of change, there should be no need for secret organisations, marching through Catholic areas, symbolic of dogs marking territory and beating drums which proclaim that they are the conquerors.

Sectarianism has to be confronted and so has the Orange and Loyal Institutions for there is no place in a New Ireland - and that's what's coming - for those who still think they are a majority lauding it over a frghtened minority. Stop beating drums and listen to the people.

The times are a changing, and instead of the Housing Executive creating more ghettoes, they should be demanding protection for their tenants and evicting the bigots. They could start with some of their employees who appear daily on television advocating violence and hatred.

GUE-NGL-new-Jan-2106

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1
Ireland
 

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