30 July 1998 Edition
``Taig free zone''
The Church of Ireland, the Orange Order and sectarianism
by Laura Friel
Widespread criticism has followed the reluctance of the Church of Ireland to distance itself from the Orange Order amidst the political fallout after the collapse of the Drumcree stand off. For four years the world watched as the Church of Ireland colluded with the Orange Order in protests that turned into an orgy of sectarian violence.
While the nightly scenes of rioting in Drumcree field were reminiscent of Apocalypse Now, the day of judgement for the Orange Order and the Church of Ireland was to be precipitated by the brutal slaying of the Quinn children.
However, murder and mayhem have always been part of the Drumcree scenario. The murder of a Catholic taxi driver Michael McGoldrick in 1995, did not result in any serious self recrimination by either Orangemen or the Church of Ireland hierarchy. Billy Wright, the head of the loyalist paramilitary group, the LVF, responsible for the McGoldrick killing, had played a pivotal role in the Drumcree stand off of that year. A series of meetings between Billy Wright and David Trimble during the 1995 stand off were held in church property and Wright was filmed directing operations amongst the crowd in Drumcree field.
For four years the silence from the Church of Ireland had been deafening but with each new atrocity their position was becoming more untenable. Within the Church of Ireland, ministers and their congregations in the 26 Counties watched with increasing horror at the compliance of their church with the Orange Order's annual antics north of the border.
Outside the church, media commentators and political representatives of Northern nationalists were questioning the persistent lack of moral leadership displayed by Church of Ireland Primate Robin Eames.
In the end all it took was a simple pulpit acknowledgement of shame by a young Orange Chaplain, William Bingham, who could no longer sustain the lie''in the shadow of three coffins of little boys''. At the beginning of the standoff the media had indulged in folksy articles about the Church of Ireland Reverend of Drumcree, portraying John Pickering as a simple country parson caught up in events beyond his remit. A moment of clarity, and the whole edifice of ritual hypocrisy, which the Church of Ireland had hid behind for years, came tumbling down.
Exposed and running for cover, there was little else Robin Eames could do beyond reiterating Bingham's call for the Orangemen at Drumcree to ``go home''. But Eames continued to stall. Publicly discredited and no longer able to sustain mass support, Orangemen at Drumcree began to drift away leaving the RUC to deal with a hard core minority. By the time the Church of Ireland decided to evoke the laws of trespass to reclaim its Drumcree property and grounds, it was effectively all over. Eames had waited for the Orange horse to bolt before locking the stable door. It fooled no one.
``Like most church people in the South,'' wrote the Provost of Tuam, the Very Reverend Robert McCarthy in a letter to the Church of Ireland Gazette, ``I am ashamed to be a member of a church which is so timid and craven as to have protested at the unauthorised use of its property at Drumcree only after such use had effectively ended''.
The Reverend David Oxley of Tullow, County Carlow went further. The bishops and general synod ``must take steps to clearly repudiate the Orange Order and what it stands for...we can either act decisively or stand condemned as ineffectual babblers and fellow-travellers with bigots.''
But Robin Eames was still clinging desperately to ineffectual babble, questioning if the Orange Order is to be regarded as ``a truly Christian movement'', one ``in which the love of God, love of neighbour and obedience to Biblical principles are more important than party political advancement?'' Eames continued, ``The Church of Ireland is suffering pain...and the pain runs deep. How do we balance the freedom of attendance by anyone at a church service with influence over their behaviour once the service has ended?''
It is a dilemma which has apparently evaded resolution by Church of Ireland clergy at Drumcree church for over 200 years. In 1795, it is recorded, members of the congregation fired up with ``anti-papal zeal with which the service had inspired them'' on leaving Drumcree church attacked the local Catholic community leaving two dead. In the months that followed sectarian tension in the area escalated into an anti-Catholic pogrom in which sixty people were murdered. Known in loyalist mythology as ``the battle of the Diamond'' the pogrom led directly into the establishment of the Orange Order.
Last week graffiti appeared on a gable wall in a Carrickfergus housing estate. ``Taig Free Zone'' runs the caption, ``If you want it we got it''. During this year's Drumcree stand off, after Ballymoney, the County Antrim town where the three Quinn children were burnt to death and 35 Catholic families were forced to flee, Carrickfergus was the next worst centre of sectarian intimidation. Twenty two families from estates such as Glenfield, Castlemara and Sunnylands have already moved out following firebomb attacks on their homes. It is time for the Church of Ireland to read the writing on the wall. The choice is simple. Either the church takes decisive action to disentangle themselves from the web of Orange bigotry or they remain the establishment face of the kind of sectarianism which daubed its message of hate on that Carrickfergus wall.