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26 November 1998 Edition

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New Labour, Old Order

by Laura Friel

It must have been a strange meeting. Tony Blair, practising the British Labour government's latest political mantra, ``modernisation'', hardliners from the Orange Order, all well past their sell-by date, beating the ``traditional'' drum, Harold Gracey fighting shy of the camera.

Leaders of the Orange Order had travelled to Downing Street to complain directly to the British PM about what the Orangemen dubbed an ``orchestrated campaign of demonisation'' against them. During a 90 minute meeting, the delegates handed Tony Blair a submission denouncing the Parades Commission, and calling for its disbandment. The big bad wolf was threatening to blow the Orange house down and the delegates were here to huff and puff.

The document was new but it was the same old fable. Orangemen are ``law abiding citizens'' whose civil liberties are recognised by international law which includes an inalienable right to march. ``All roads should be open to law abiding citizens.'' Others have no rights ``to impede or harass'' Orangemen engaging ``in the peaceful exercise of their civil rights.'' Residents who object, are ``politically motivated'' and as such should not enjoy the same civil rights as Orangemen. ``No community owns any road.''

Orange marches should be subject only to the ``reasoned judgement'' of the RUC well instructed in the criteria of law abiding citizens exercising the right to march.

Politically motivated parades (read protesting nationalist residents) should be subject to the full rigour of public order legislation. ``Problems can be posed by parades which are politically motivated..... in such circumstances questions of acceptability and public order should be of greater importance than in respect of long established processions.''

Double standards? Special pleading? No, this is the familar cry of the school yard bully, ``It's not my fault'' and ``It's not fair.''

In the Downing Street drawing room, with Harold Gracey refusing to join the photocall, light relief was afforded by Robert Overend as he quizzed the British PM on the question of pigs. ``You know I never miss an opportunity to mention pigs if I think there is going to be some useful outcome,'' said the Bellaghy farmer. It was all smiles for the camera but behind the facade the fairy tale of Orange supremacism is over. A wind of change is blowing throughout the Six counties and the Orange Order would be well advised not to keep building its house of straw.

The Orange Order's Downing Street meeting came as details of a secret meeting with church leaders began to emerge.

Church of Ireland Primate Robin Eames, Archbishop Sean Brady, Catholic Primate of All Ireland, and Fr Sean Larkin met with leading Orangemen last week. The three hour meeting, which focused on the issue of Drumcree, is believed to have found no solution to the Orange Order's defiance of the Parades Commission ruling, which rerouted this July's Drumcree march away from the nationalist Garvaghy Road.

Despite unleashing a year of violent sectarian reaction, the Orange Order remains resolute in its uncompromising stand. The meeting came amid increasing divisions within the Church of Ireland, many of whose members have expressed dismay at the tacit tolerance which has been afforded to the Orangemen at Drumcree church.

Orange inspired violence 1998

615 attacks, including 24 shooting incidents and 45 blast bombs during a 10 day period in July.
140 sectarian attacks on Catholic homes.
165 sectarian attacks on Catholic owned businesses and premises.
467 vehicles damaged with 178 hijackings.
632 petrol bombs thrown with a further 2,250 seized.
4 murders, including the three Quinn children of Ballymoney and RUC officer Frankie Reilly of Portadown.

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