The proposal (since rescinded) of the Dublin and Wicklow lodges of the Orange Order to march in Dublin at the end of May has been a public relations disaster for the Orangemen. This initiative was supposed to force a wedge into the South, which would allow the Orangemen to link up with two-nationists and revisionists, and thereby open up a new propaganda front against beleaguered nationalist communities.
In an Irish Times profile on 25 March, Dublin Orange Order spokesperson Ian Cox swore allegiance to Queen Elizabeth, said he was prepared to date a Catholic, but not marry one, and was ``fed up with the Church of Ireland''. Brian Kennaway, the former convenor of the Order's Education Committee (he resigned from the Order with eight others this week), wrote (with his tongue firmly in his cheek, that allowing the parade showed ``respect for minorities'' (3 April). The Orangemen couldn't have hoped for a better start. The march proposal had won gushing support from Labour's Dublin Lord Mayor Mary Freehill (who doesn't know any better) and Senator Mary Henry (who should).
It is not necessary to be tolerant of bigotry while also being tolerant of its right to exist. It might be difficult for an apologist for Orangeism to spot it, but this is plutralism in action.
Dublin Sinn Féin Councillor Nicky Kehoe (Irish Times, 14 April)
Then the script started to go awry.
Sinn Féin's Dublin Corporation team put forward a unanimously supported motion calling on the Orangemen to talk directly to the Garvaghy and Ormeau Road residents, while recognising the Orangemen's democratic right to march. Councillors from all sides rounded on Mary Freehill for giving civic support in the name of all Dubliners to an avowedly sectarian organisation.
Brother Breen (Tyrone Grand Lodge) claims to come from a Protestant tradition in Irish politics... I could validly make the same claim. Irish republicanism was formed in the 18th and 19th centuries by thise referred to as the `Protestant patriots'.
Nicky Kehoe (Irish News, 13 June)
In a further direct snub, the Church of Ireland refused the use of its parish church on Dawson Street to the Orangemen. Ian Cox had asserted that the C of I was ``timid'' and had ``really let Protestants down''. The Protestant answer was to repudiate this sectarian vision of the Protestant identity.
There was little political space in the South for Orange sectarianism to operate without challenge. The Orangemen called off the march, bemoaning the withdrawal of political support from elements of the establishment. This episode shows that Orangeism cannot stand on its own two feet. Support within the structures of the state and the political establishment allows it to thrive in the North.
However, if the march was over, the debate was not.
The Orange proposal opened up a spate of letters on the nature of the Orange Order in newspapers, North and South. Senator Mary Henry had said that pluralism meant ``welcoming'' the Orangemen . Writing according to an out-of-date script, Robin Bury of the `Reform Movement' (a Dublin Orange front organisation) criticised SF for attacking the ``right'' of the Orangemen to march in Dublin (Irish Times 11 April). Dublin Sinn Féin councillor Nicky Kehoe nailed this political lie and reiterated the Sinn Féin motion. He put the view that ``the Orangemen are welcome to march, that does not mean they are welcome'' (14 April). Kehoe wrote that the Orangemen try to monopolise the expression of `Protestant culture' in the same way that white racists try to monopolise the expression of so-called `white culture'.
A contributor to the Irish News (7 April) said: ``The Ku Klux Klan said the same thing, then allowed Catholics to join and proclaimed intolerance essential to `white culture'. Listening to an Orangeman on the need for tolerance might lead us to ask, what next? Perhaps a Nazi telling Jews to `live-and-let-live' or the Ku Klux Klan instructing blacks on the value of inclusivity.''
In An Irishman's Diary (10 April), Pat McGoldrick wrote that in his native Glasgow, most Protestants ``despised the Orangemen with a passion, believing they brought shame and disgrace on Protestantism''. Because Orangeism in Scotland never had a political base of any significance, they were not feared - unlike in the North, where the RUC and B Specials made sure nationalists kept their heads down.
Protestants in the North of Ireland who might otherwise criticise Orangeism are genuinely in fear of their safety. Such Protestants are regarded with the same venom meted out to anti-racist whites by bigots in the US deep South in the early 1960s.
In a letter to the Irish News (17 April), Councillor Kehoe detailed the inherently sectarian Constitution of the Grand Lodge of Ireland. It proclaims conditional support for the British monarchy, which is always accompanied by the phrase in capitals ``BEING PROTESTANT''. A member of the order must be a Protestant, but that is not sufficient. He must be born of Protestant parents ``in wedlock'' and (if married) have a Protestant wife.
yone ``dishonouring the Institution by marrying a Roman Catholic shall be expelled''. A member must ``prevent and discountenance'' intermarriage between Protestants and Catholics and stop Catholics from playing games or dancing on a Sunday. A member must ``Strenuously oppose the fatal errors and doctrines of the Church of Rome and scrupulously avoid countenancing (by his presence or otherwise) any act or ceremony of Popish worship''.
This hysteria about all things ``Papist'' led a leading Orangeman to be expelled for sitting beside a Catholic priest at a social function some years ago. A Grand Master, George Patton, said that Tony Blair ``betrayed his religion'' by marrying a Catholic. Dennis Rogan, Chairperson, and First Minister David Trimble of the Unionist Party are under threat of expulsion from the Order for attending funeral masses of two young victims of the Omagh bomb.
Tyrone Grand Lodge's Brother Wilfred Breen, replied (8 June) to Cllr Kehoe in the Irish News. He tried to take the sting out of some of these nakedly sectarian rules. Orangemen, he wrote, have attended Catholic funerals ``out of respect for the deceased'' and ``to my knowledge, Grand Lodge never expelled them''. In other words, a dead Catholic can have his last rites duly noted by an Orangeman of his acquaintancem - it is the live Papists who cause the Orangemen problems. Messrs Rogan and Trimble may continue to live under the mere threat, if not the actuality, of expulsion from the Order.
Brother Breen repeated the classically sectarian Orange view, that any criticism of Orangeism as ``intolerance of the Protestant faith in general''. In other words, to be a true Protestant is to be a pro-British Orangeman.
The attempt to foist a mirror-image view within nationalism, that Catholic equals Irishman, has been fought by republicans since the time of Thomas Davis and the Young Irelanders. As Kehoe pointed out, most of the founding figures within the republican tradition were Protestants: ``It is because of the non-sectarian, democratic contribution of such leaders and thinkers that there is almost total unconcern within the nationalist population about the religious affiliation of nationalist and republican political leaders. Nationalist voters have never had a problem electing Protestant leaders. Unionists, however, have a big problem with the religion of their leaders, a problem compounded by the activities of the Orange Order and its affiliation to the Unionist Party.''
The Orange Order has 30% of the votes at the Unionist Party's governing Ulster Unionist Council.
In effect, a Catholic priest can never deliver the prayers, which lead off Unionist Council meetings, since such ``Popish worship'' would cause most of the hall to vacate the premises. Sectarian anti-Catholicism is at the heart of historical and contemporary Unionist politics.
The Orange monolith, though shaken, is far from broken. Protestants need courage to come out and criticise the historical distortion of their identity promoted by Orangeism.
Protestants are fully integrated into the political and social life of the 26 Counties to the extent that religion plays no part in the daily political life of politics. There are issues relating to Church control of education and health, but the challenge to this control comes from secular, not religious forces.
The 26-County Catholic sectarianism (initially promoted by Cumann na nGaedhal after Partition as an alternative to the then defeated republicanism of Tone, Davis, Connolly and Pearse) was steadily eroded by the social and political movements which arose from within republican, socialist and feminist politics in the 1960s. The second-class status of women, the poverty and unemployment and the discrimination and injustices facing nationalists in the North have all been challenged over the past 40 years. The social power of the Catholic Church has been successfully challenged from within nationalism. No such challenge has occurred or is possible within the politically-based religious sectarianism that dominates Irish Unionism.
The biggest obstacle to the resolution of the backwardness of Irish society lies in the sectarianism promoted by the Orange Order and most sections of unionism, backed by the British government. Residents of the Garvaghy and Ormeau Roads are at the forefront of the fight for basic human dignity on this island. All democrats, especially all democrats from a Protestant background, should support them. If that happens, we might begin to break the sectarian stranglehold on politics on this island.