Irish Republican News · September 5, 2008
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: Modernisation of the Orange Order?
Modernisation of the Orange Order?

The final installment of a three-part series looking at the malign influence of the Orange Order in the north of Ireland, from its inception to the present day.

Social Role of the Orders

The Loyal Orders have played a significant political role in the history of Ireland over the past 200 years. Opposition to parades can only be understood in the context of that political role. But the Orders also fulfill a social/cultural role within the Protestant community which few outside of that community are aware of. The Loyal Orders are anxious to focus on the social/cultural aspect of their organisations since to do so diverts attention away from their political involvement. It would be equally as mischievous however to simply ignore that role.

The phrase, ‘Protestant community’, is itself inadequate. Within the reformed churches there are members of the Church of Ireland, Presbyterian, Free Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Quakers, and other smaller churches and congregations. Writing in the Crimson Banner, the newsletter of the Apprentice Boys of Derry, the Rev. Stephen Dickinson calls for “unity among Protestants” and suggests that the “Apprentice Boys, the Orange Order, the Royal Black Preceptory offer such an opportunity to bring different strands of Protestantism together”. Orange publications often argue that the Protestant community lack the benefits of a single unifying church as is the case in the Catholic community. Hepburn refers to this theme of ‘Protestant unity’ in the 19th century and the role of the Order “linking Anglicans, Presbyterians and other Protestant denominations in one movement. Local Orange halls became the focus for ‘Protestant’ communities, whichever Church their members attended on a Sunday”. This should not be misunderstood as merely a form of political unity though that was the primary purpose. The Loyal Orders have traditionally functioned as providers of services, as organisations which ‘bond’ the local community (most especially the males) and as a link between the past and the present.

The Orange Standard, for instance, organ of the Orange Order, regularly publishes details of some 70 credit unions based at Orange halls, Preceptory halls and the Apprentice Boys Hall in Derry. These credit unions, with an ‘Ulster British identity’, are a comparatively new development but follow in the tradition of economic support networks provided by the Orders. In the past this meant ‘job-lodge-job’. Employment in certain workplaces implied a willingness to join the local lodge. Alternatively, membership of the local lodge could be the passport to employment. The system, when it worked, as it did par excellence in the shipyards and engineering sector, was obviously a disaster for the Catholics who were excluded and those Protestants who did not join the Order. The working class Protestant male who took advantage of it though could hardly be blamed.

The local Orange hall continues to play a role, particularly in rural areas, in the social life of the Protestant community. An internal 1995 conference report on the ‘Future of the Orange Order’ suggests that “Youth clubs, Mothers groups, religious services, concerts etc. all take place in many Orange halls throughout our country” but the same report goes on to lament the fact that “Every state community centre which opens down the road from an Orange hall, every Mother and Toddler, pensioners or youth group which meets in a State-owned building, is a reproach to the Orange Order for its failure to build a solid community base”. In a 1995 meeting with the Meath Peace Group , Gordon Lucy of the Ulster Society suggested that State community centres were an attempt “to minimise the Orange Order’s influence...”. In Derry, the Apprentice Boys Hall, the ‘Mem’, is virtually the only venue available to young people from the Fountain on the west bank of the Foyle. The ever expanding ‘theme pubs’ in the city centre which have changed Derry night life for better or worse, are not an option for the majority of young city side Protestants because of sectarian clashes between young people in the city.

In addition the Orders are involved in charities such as the Lord Enniskillen Memorial Orphan Fund which was set up by the Grand Lodge in 1886. Both the Orange Standard and local newspapers carry regular photo stories of local lodges contributing to charities. In Donaghadee a holiday home is run specifically for members of the Junior Orange Lodges.

The social/cultural functions of the Orders are important in understanding why individuals join in the first place. For some the motivation is the wish to carry on a tradition handed down over generations, to literally wear ‘the sash my father wore’. The rite of passage for the young Catholic male, especially in rural areas, may well involve the Gaelic Athletic Association. For the young Protestant male that rite of passage may lead to the Junior lodge or at a later stage to the Orange Order or Apprentice Boys of Derry. For James Galway to start his musical career in an Orange flute band in East Belfast was as natural as it would be for a young Andalucian to learn flamenco dancing. This is hardly surprising where the social life of a community revolves around the only available hall, the Orange hall and where clear advantages are attached to membership. Though this is certainly no longer the case in large deprived urban areas there is evidence that loyalist bands, of the Blood and Thunder variety, fulfill the function of linking youth culture to Orangeism.

There is of course an added advantage to the social/cultural role of the Orders. When Brian Faulkner MP, Orangeman and later Stormont Prime Minister, told a meeting in Comber in 1963 that the Order allowed for employer and employee to meet on an equal basis providing for the “soundest of industrial relations” and “political stability” he was playing on a well worn ‘ould Orange flute’. From the United Irishmen to the Land League, from the Ballot Act to the 1932 Bread riots the Orders have ensured that the Protestant working class never allowed the focus of their anger to drift too far from the traditional enemies of ‘popery’ and ‘nationalism’. In fact the very success of the 1974 loyalist workers strike sent a shiver down the Orange spine. The Order shared a common purpose with the loyalist workers in defeating the power sharing executive but were shocked at the implications. What if such power were turned against them? That Twelfth the speeches from the field warned explicitly of the “dangers of communism among Protestants”. A full century earlier an Orange chaplain had linked the Land League with “Popery”, “anarchy” and “communism”, an allegation which surely surprised the Pope as much as it did Bakunin or Marx but one that was to be repeated when unemployed Catholics and Protestants joined forces and fought the RUC in 1932 in protest at the levels of unemployment relief. The Order impressed upon “loyal subjects of the King, the vital necessity of standing guard against communism”.

Bowler and the Balaclava

At the heart of the controversy surrounding contentious parades is the refusal of the Loyal Orders to meet spokespersons from residents groups who have served sentences for ‘scheduled’ or ‘terrorist’ offences. The Orders have gone to great pains to distance themselves, the law abiding, from the lawbreakers, or more specifically, republican lawbreakers. The Orders have never formally encouraged any of the loyalist paramilitary groups. It seems certain that the majority of ‘brethren’ were and are opposed to sectarian attacks on their Catholic neighbours. But the relationship between those who would kill for ‘Ulster’ on the Eleventh night and those who would walk for ‘Ulster’ on the Twelfth has been complex, at times contradictory, and sometimes even close.

As early as 1971 the Scottish Grand Secretary of the Orange Lodge was trawling lodges in Scotland looking for men with previous military experience “to go to Ulster to fight”. The UVF however was unenthusiastic about the offer of support. The following year members of the Order formed the paramilitary Orange Volunteers which, according to Bruce, “bombed a pub in Belfast in 1973 but otherwise did little illegal other than collect the considerable bodies of arms found in Belfast Orange Halls...”.

During the controversy surrounding a proposed Orange parade through the Catholic Obins St in Portadown in 1972 a “large contingent” of loyalist paramilitaries formed up in the area and “saluted as several hundred Orangemen marched through the district on their way to Drumcree”. In the 1974 loyalist workers strike the Order co-operated in a co-ordinating committee that included “no less than seven Loyalist paramilitary groups”. During the lifespan of this coalition of ‘constitutional’ unionism and paramilitary loyalism , six Catholics were killed in a loyalist bomb attack on the Rose and Crown pub in Belfast, and thirty three died in no-warning bomb attacks in Dublin and Monaghan, the greatest number of people killed on any one day of the conflict. Shortly after the strike ended “substantial arms finds” were made in seven Orange halls raided by the British Army. In West Belfast fourteen pistols, eighteen rifles and shotguns, four home-made mortars, six smoke grenades and five thousand rounds of ammunition were found in the caretakers house next to the Orange hall.

In 1976 the incestuous nature of the relationship between the UDA and the Orange Order in Scotland became apparent when the Grand Lodge attempted unsuccessfully to expel Roddy MacDonald, a leading UDA man in Scotland and lodge member after he had embarrassed Orangeism with the admission on television that he “would be happy to buy arms and ship them to Ulster”. His expulsion by senior officials was blocked by three hundred delegates at a special disciplinary hearing. When other Scottish lodge members were convicted of gun running to the UDA the Grand Lodge moved to distance itself but it was clear that a considerable gap existed and exists between the PR conscious leadership and the grassroots. In England the Orange Order suffered a “major rift” over the issue of support for loyalist paramilitaries though both English and Scottish lodges continued to provide moneys, mostly for the UVF.

In January 1980 the Irish Independent broke a story which exposed serious allegations of sex abuse at a boys home in East Belfast called Kincora. As the story unfolded it became clear that the scandal involved the British Security Services, loyalist paramilitaries, senior Unionist politicians and the Orange Order. Chris Moore, a journalist with UTV, has recently published a book on the subject.

According to Moore, in the mid 1960s the British Intelligence services “almost certainly” prompted one of their contacts in Belfast, William Mc Grath, to set up “his own Orange ginger group”. Mc Grath, who believed that Ulster’s Protestants were one of the lost tribes of Israel, was a passionate opponent of the three ‘isms’, Romanism, republicanism and communism. A convincing orator, Mc Grath went on to develop friendships and influence with the Who’s Who of Ulster unionism and Orangeism. He set up Tara, a shadowy ginger group within the Orange Order which was to evolve into a paramilitary group that prepared its supporters for the ‘Doomsday’ scenario of a British withdrawal. In August 1971 Mc Grath authored and distributed a leaflet calling for the various vigilante groups operating in the Belfast area to come together in “platoons of twenty under the command of someone capable”. Thus UDA was born. As Moore remarks, “ Here we had a man under the ever-watchful control of MI5 writing a recruiting leaflet for an organisation which grew to be one of the most violent groups to operate during twenty five bloody years in Northern Ireland.” Mc Grath also set up his own Orange lodge which he insisted be renamed Ireland’s Heritage LOL 1303. His links to the Order went beyond the monthly lodge and district meetings however. By the late sixties his “influence within Belfast Orangeism was on the increase” and he had “gained the ear of some of the city’s leading Orangemen”. One of those who is said to have secretly funded Mc Grath was Sir Knox Cunningham, a leading member of the Orange Order, Apprentice Boys, Ulster Unionist Council, former member of the National Executive of the Conservative Party from 1959-1966, Parliamentary Private Secretary to Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and MP for Antrim South from 1955-1970. His election agent, James Molyneaux, Imperial Grand Master of the Royal Black Preceptory, Deputy Grand Master of the Orange Order and former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, inherited Cunninghams parliamentary seat which he held until 1997 when he resigned. Molyneaux, Paisley and many others with influence in Orange and Unionist circles were aware of Tara, knew Mc Grath, and had been warned of allegations about his paeodophile tendencies. In addition to his profuse political activities Mc Grath went on to become Housemaster in a children’s home in 1971 where he joined two other employees in the sexual abuse of boys under their care. A year after the story first broke in 1980 Mc Grath was convicted along with five other individuals and Kincora was closed.

Other scandals have hit the headlines in Ireland in recent years. Those in positions of authority refusing to listen. Abuse continuing for years, even decades. Children in institutions victimised. What makes the Kincora scandal unique however, apart from the fact that MI5 obstructed two investigations into it, was the fact that senior members of the Security Services, the Unionist parties and the Orange Order colluded, covered up and prevaricated despite decades of allegations against a man who “exerted a powerful influence on the development of Unionism in the 1970s and 1980s.” (Moore). The threat that details might emerge of a boys home in East Belfast where influential people came to visit, that threat became itself part of the murkier side of politics here.

The links between the Order and Tara, it may be argued, are part of the early history of the conflict. Not so the relationship between the Portadown UVF leader Billy Wright (King Rat) and certain members of the Portadown District Orange Lodge. In the first Drumcree stand-off in 1995 Wright was active in organising barricades in the Charles St area of the town while the brethren confronted the RUC at the top of the Garvaghy Rd. As Drumcree II developed Wright, whose Mid-Ulster UVF was responsible for the deaths of over 42 Catholics in the area since 1989, was consulting with members of the Portadown District Lodge including the MP for the area, David Trimble. While Wright showed solidarity with local Orangemen his colleagues in the Mid-Ulster UVF kidnapped a local Catholic taxi driver, Michael Mc Goldrick, and shot him in the head. When Wright was subsequently ordered to leave the country by the Combined Loyalist Military Command a rally was held to show support for the ‘local hero’. Wright was joined on the platform by William Mc Crea, then DUP MP for Mid-Ulster and member of the Apprentice Boys of Derry and Worshipful Master Harold Gracey of the Portadown District Lodge of the Orange Order.

Though Billy Wright has since been jailed for eight years his name still resonates with some members of the Order. In March 1997 the Master of a Scottish Orange Lodge, Alexander Mc Kinlay, admitted to a Scottish court that he had threatened a witness in an attempt to quash the case against Lindsay Robb, a loyalist politician found guilty of conspiracy to smuggle arms to the UVF. Mc Kinlay told the prosecution witness that Billy Wright would “deal with his family”.

Loyalist Bands

For many the most obvious manifestation of the ambiguous relationship between the Loyal Orders and loyalist paramilitaries is the participation of some of the ‘blood and thunder’ or ‘kick the Pope’ bands on parades. Since 1986 all bands that are hired by the Orange Order are required to sign a contract stipulating good behaviour and regulating drumming, uniforms, alcohol usage etc. An Orange publication, has pointed out that “In Armagh District one band was prevented from parading as it carried a UVF flag while in 1985 a band carrying a UVF flag was refused permission to join the Royal Black procession in Lisburn”. The message doesn’t appear to have got through despite the undoubted attempts by some in the Loyal Orders to address the problem. Over several years now the Shutting of the Gates ceremony organised by the Apprentice Boys in Derry has included a UDA colour party carrying UFF flags and wearing paramilitary uniforms. In December 1996 SDLP councillor Mark Durkan commented , “Those responsible for organising the parade will be seen by many as having hosted this ugly and sinister display”. Following this incident the Apprentice Boys promised an investigation but such displays have been taking place for several years. The August Apprentice Boys parade has attracted its fair share of paramilitary trappings over the years. Bands with UVF insignia are so regular as to have earned the description ‘traditional’. In 1993 a band ‘thought to be close to the thinking of the UDA’ from Rathcoole near Belfast clashed with another band ‘close to the thinking of the UVF’ from the Shankill while waiting to join the main Apprentice Boys parade near the railway station in Derry. The UVF banner was broken in the scuffles that followed and several bandsmen were injured.

The Orders will argue that bandsmen are often not themselves members of the Loyal Orders and that attempts are made to control their conduct. The ambiguity of the relationship though is highlighted in the light-hearted nature of an article in A Celebration of the Orange Institution about the ‘blood and thunder’ bands. The uglier side of many of the bands becomes clear in ‘band parades’ which are outside the control of the Orders. A report in the Fermanagh based Impartial Reporter on clashes between local youths and bandsmen during such an event in Enniskillen refers to 18 bands parading “many of them carrying banners bearing the emblems and badges of organisations including the UDA, UFF, UVF and loyalist prisoner groups”. One of the bands that paraded included the colour party from the ‘South East Antrim Ulster Freedom Fighters’ whose banner was confiscated by the RUC in December 1996 after the Derry parade. A Coleraine-based band named after a UVF member who blew himself up with his own bomb, the Freeman Memorial Band, was one of a number of bands which proposed to march past a Catholic chapel in Kilrea Co. Derry as a memorial mass was being held for a Catholic man shot dead by loyalists two weeks beforehand. The parade was eventually re-routed. In Derry recently the Nelson Drive Flute Band organised an event commemorating four UVF members who died in 1975 when a bomb they had been preparing exploded prematurely. A mural and brass plague was unveiled in memory of the four men.

Jarman comments that “To an extent the autonomy of the bands has become an accepted part of unionist public unity while in private the paramilitary regalia have been regarded as an unwelcome intrusion ...”. However unwelcome the intrusion it seems clear that the relationship of the Loyal Orders to bands and indeed to loyalist paramilitaries is a complex one. Local lodges continue to hire bands who wear their allegiances to paramilitary groups literally on their sleeves.

The Orders continually reiterate that they cannot meet with representatives of residents groups who have prior convictions. Given the relationship between the Orders and loyalist paramilitaries, a less sanctimonious attitude on the issue of lawabiders and lawbreakers would be more honest and certainly more helpful.

Orders and the Churches: an Unholy Alliance?

Few images encapsulated the dilemma faced by Protestant churches in Ireland today as clearly as that of the hundreds of Orangemen gathered at the Church of Ireland at Drumcree in July 1995 and again in 1996. Many within the Church of Ireland, especially in the South, were offended by that image. Archbishop Eames, the Church of Ireland Primate, explained that it was not in his power or in the power of the governing body of the church, the Synod, to forbid the use of church property to the Loyal Orders. That power rests with the local congregation. The Church of Ireland, Methodist and Presbyterian churches pride themselves on the local democratic structures which exist within their organisations. Congregations reflect their own ethos to a certain degree. Catholics can only look on in envy. But the dilemma is that that ethos may, depending on the congregation, have an orange tinge to it. The problem didn’t begin of course with the outward parade of Portadown District Lodge to Drumcree Church in July 1995.

Opposition to the ‘unholy alliance’ of Loyal Orders and Protestant churches can be traced back to the very beginnings of Orangeism. The leadership of the United Irishmen were Presbyterian at a time when membership of the Orange Order was largely Church of Ireland. But by far the most formidable critic to emerge in the last century was the land reforming Home Ruler, the Rev. James Brown Armour of Ballymoney who railed against the “senseless fear of Romanism” during the 1893 Presbyterian Assembly. ‘Armour of Ballymoney’ led a minority of Dissenters who argued that Presbyterians should “not conform to Unionist orthodoxy”. It was to be a losing battle. As the Home Rule debate gathered momentum in the 1880s Presbyterians joined the Loyal Orders in large numbers. The political alliances which had existed until that time between liberal Presbyterians and Catholics in areas like Derry (see Lacy and Murphy) were not to reemerge in the North.

With the creation of a “Protestant State for a Protestant people” in the North (Craigavon) and a “Catholic Nation ...” in the South (De Valera) the Christian churches maintained a comfortable distance to each other. It was an acceptable situation both for right-wing Catholics and the Loyal Orders. This status quo was not to be challenged until the 1960s with the growth of the ecumenical movement. The Loyal Orders argued (as they continue to do) that they were in fact the true ‘ecumenists’ since they unite the Christian churches. By this definition the Catholic church is not Christian. Many within the Protestant churches disagreed. Purdie highlighted many examples. In 1964 the Methodist Record called on readers to reject bigotry while the Rev. Eric Gallagher, who was later to become President of the Methodist church, spoke out against “Protestant fascism”. The Presbyterian church defended the hand of friendship which had been extended to Catholics and denied the allegation echoed in Twelfth resolutions of a “Romeward trend”. The Church of Ireland Gazette rallied in support of a curate in Sandy Row who had brought young people from the area to see a Catholic church. “In pursuing ecumenism,” it was noted “ leaders of the Protestant churches stood up to the Orange Order” but this was to have consequences given that the “Orange Order’s strong opposition to ecumenism seriously undermined the official leaders of the Protestant churches”.

Over thirty years on and Catholics and Protestants walk together each year from St Columb’s Church of Ireland Cathedral to St Eugene’s Catholic Cathedral in Derry for joint services during the Two Cathedrals Festival. This is without doubt an event which would have been unthinkable in the early 1960s. But the sting, as always, is in the tail. Each year in August and December the Apprentice Boys of Derry, an organisation with a clearly political agenda, holds commemorative parades in the city which are frequently marked by sectarian incidents, paramilitary displays and drunkenness. A church service in the same St Columb’s Cathedral is an integral part of the ceremonies. The dilemma of Drumcree is replicated throughout the North.

Defining Moments

Speaking to the Diocesan Synod in Derry on 23 October 1996 Bishop Mehaffey spoke of the divisions within the Church of Ireland on the issue of Drumcree which, he argued, was “a defining moment.” He referred to those within the church who “give their total support to traditional marches” and those who believe “this association”, between the churches and the Loyal Orders, “should be seriously questioned and indeed severed.” Speaking several months earlier the Church of Ireland Primate Dr Eames said, “It is a form of blasphemy if, following a religious service, those who have attended it engage in behaviour which makes a mockery of such a service”. Likewise the Church of Ireland Gazette which pulled no punches in an editorial following Drumcree II when it asked, “What was the role of the Church in yet again providing a venue for a church service given the dangerous stand-off at Drumcree the previous year”. The Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, Rev. Walton Empey spoke of the “groundswell of anger, frustration, bitterness and hurt” felt by church members in the Republic following Drumcree.

In fairness to the church leaders it must be understood that challenging the links which exist with the Loyal Orders threatens the very unity of those churches. The June 1997 issue of the Orange Standard leads with the banner headline, “Protestant Churches must stand up for their people,” the clear implication being that they are no longer doing so from an orange perspective. Inside the paper a further article is headlined, “Church of Ireland in South is Republican in ethos, Unionist claims” and goes on to detail Ulster Unionist John Hunter’s claims that there are “two Church of Irelands in the island today.” Writing in the Crimson Banner, the newsletter of the Apprentice Boys, the Rev. Stephen Dickinson argues for greater involvement by ministers in the Loyal Orders “being wholeheartedly for God first and then for Ulster as well”. For those in the Protestant churches who don’t believe that the three wise men of biblical fame were Orangemen from Ballymena, the challenge of creating distance between themselves and the Loyal Orders is daunting. The fate of the Presbyterian Church minister who left his Limavady diocese following the ‘revelation’ that he had extended the hand of friendship to the local Catholic priest in the 1980s is a salutary reminder to those who would ‘protest’ the link to the Orders in the true Protestant tradition of Martin Luther.

The minutes of the General Half-Yearly Meeting of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland for December 1995 includes, from page 31 to 35, a list of the Grand Officers for the year 1995-96. Sixty three of those listed are ministers of religion from the Grand Master, the Rev. Martin Smyth, down through Assistant and Deputy Grand Masters, Grand and Deputy Grand Chaplains and last but not least , the Librarian. The journalist, Tom Mc Gurk, has written of the courageous steps taken by the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa when it was challenged to review its relationship with the Broderbond and he asks the question of the Church of Ireland, “Will they have the courage to finally disentangle themselves from organisations which give public and triumphalist expression to a sectarianism which Dr Eames characterised at the Synod as ‘the real sickness in Northern Ireland’”.

The Law and the Order

The admission by the Chief Constable of the RUC, Ronnie Flanagan, that he had resigned from the Masonic Order “so people would trust him to be impartial” raised the entire question of RUC membership of secretive organisations such as the Loyal Orders. Shortly after the Chief Constable’s admission the Pat Finucane Centre wrote to the Police Authority requesting statistics on cross-membership of members of the Authority itself and the RUC in the Loyal Orders. In reply we were informed that “members (of the Police Authority) are not required to declare their membership of the organisations you refer to ...”. The second part of our query referred to the RUC but this was simply ignored by the Authority. The RUC does not require officers to declare membership of the Loyal Orders. In August 1996 the Irish News claimed that a Catholic RUC man had contacted them, presented identification and alleged that Catholic officers were deliberately excluded from serving during disturbances in Derry. He went on to allege that “policemen deployed at the controversial Apprentice Boys parade route were selected because ‘they are Protestants, members of the Orange Order or Masons’ . Catholic officers were not deployed because they “would only witness colleagues gung-ho at the prospect of firing plastic bullets”. The RUC rejected the claims.

During the summer of 1996 a total of seven RUC officers were suspended on full pay for their involvement in Orange Order protests. Four of the men, including a sergeant, had taken part in a Royal Black Institution parade in Fermanagh. Following a query from the Pat Finucane Centre in April 1997 as to how the RUC could justify the lengthy suspensions on full pay we were informed two days later that a press statement was pending. The men were reinstated though an internal inquiry is still pending. Three of the other suspended officers are reported to be from the North Down area and one of them has been charged with a criminal offence in connection with loyalists protests in the summer of 1996. The suspensions give the impression that the RUC is tackling the issue. In fact they were forced to do so following a January 1996 judicial decision which upheld the right of the RUC to discipline an officer who had taken part in both Orange and Apprentice Boys parades. At issue was not membership of the Orders per se. The officer in question, Billy Stewart, had been told by an Assistant Chief Constable that “there was no problem with going on parade as long as he was not in a prominent position and his picture did not appear in the newspapers”. The Apprentice Boys, from whose newsletter the above quote is taken, took issue with the RUC and judicial handling of the case. If membership is not contrary to RUC regulations how can the public manifestation of membership, i.e. parading, be contrary to regulations ? The ‘Boys’ have a valid point.

The former chairman of the Police Authority, David Cook, who was sacked by the former Secretary of State, has urged a registry of names of RUC men involved in organisations such as the Orange Order. When this was suggested by him to the Authority it was rejected by a majority of members. It emerged in 1996 that two members of the Police Authority were themselves members of the Loyal Orders after one of them was said to have been involved in Drumcree related loyalist protests. The issue of why a registry of members would be helpful has never been explained. Cook suggests that it would be “a most useful public declaration of impartiality by the police.” Why? The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) in Britain proposed such a scheme following public unease about the influence of Masons among senior police officers. As many as a quarter of chief constables in Britain may be in the freemasons according to the vice-chairman of the ACPO. Just how a public declaration of membership would be of benefit to the public remains a mystery. The real problem lies with the issue of membership itself. The Loyal Orders are political organisations who stand in determined opposition to the civil and religious liberties of some 45% of the population in the North of Ireland. So just how many RUC officers are members of the Loyal Orders?

A former member of the Police Authority, Chris Ryder, who was also sacked by the former Secretary of State, writing of the stand-off at Drumcree in 1996 said, “ ..the personal allegiance of policemen and women was brought close to breaking point. Some officers were indeed members of the Orange Order and others had close family or relatives as members.’ During the stand-off there were people on both sides of that confrontation who were blood relatives’ one senior officer said. The point regarding “close family or relatives” is important. Given the number of members and the fact that both the Loyal Orders and the Security Forces are drawn from the same community it would be surprising if RUC officers did not count loyal brethren among their circle of friends and family. No one knows, not even the Orders, how widespread membership is among the RUC . It is possible however to get some idea of percentages from the Orange Roll of Honour published in the November 1996 issue of the Orange Standard and again updated in the February 1997 issue. The Roll lists the 159 members of Orange Order who lost their lives in the past 28 years as a result of the conflict. Thirty nine of the dead are listed as members of the RUC. This would mean that almost 13% of all RUC members killed were also in the Orange Order. (The roll of honour does not include the Apprentice Boys) Fifty four of those killed were members of the Ulster Defence Regiment. This would represent approximately 22.5% of all UDR members who lost their lives. Four of those listed were serving in the Prison Service representing almost 15% of all prison warders who lost their lives. (cross-referenced with Bear in mind these dead: An Index of deaths from the conflict in Ireland 1969-1993)

The report of the Half-Yearly meeting of the Grand Lodge of Ireland for 1995 lists a total of 14 Grand Officers who are Justices of the Peace (JP) including several Deputy Grand Masters and both the past and present Grand Secretary. As regards those members of the judiciary above the level of JPs it is accepted that membership of the Loyal Orders is no longer advisable for any aspiring barrister hoping for a seat on the bench. Membership of the Masonic Order is more likely among the legal profession. including senior judges, in the North.

The Spirit of Drumcree

Following the 1995 stand-off at Drumcree a hard-line pressure group developed within the Orange Order called the Spirit of Drumcree. The group, lead by Joel Patton, held a meeting in the Ulster Hall in the autumn of 1995 where the Grand Lodge (GOLI) came in for considerable criticism. Several thousand attended the meeting and a report back to the Grand Lodge gives a flavour of the discontent stirring in the ranks that night in the Ulster Hall. According to the observer from the Grand Lodge the meeting was informed that the Drumcree initiative was originally a group of some 40 Orangemen who had come together following the July stand-off. Meetings had already been held in Antrim, Tyrone and Craigavon. Joel Patton’s speech emphasised the need to democratise the institution, oppose rerouting of parades or any negotiation with local residents, and break the official link between the Order and the Ulster Unionist Party. The next speaker, Bro. Dowie, launched a ferocious attack on the Grand Lodge, “full of old men with one and a half brain cells between them” and asked the audience what should be done with the Grand Master, the Rev. Martin Smyth. A voice from the back of the hall replied, “Shoot him,” but was told , “now no violence, not yet.” The speaker, who, according to the observers from the GOLI demonstrated an ‘ambivalent’ attitude towards violence, went on,” I was going to say that I’m glad to see that Orange halls are not the only type of Halls being burnt now, but I’d better not.” In perhaps the most revealing statement of the evening the Worshipful Brother stressed that , “The Orange Institution is not a Religious Order ... it was set up to defend the Ulster Protestant People ... of course the Orange Order has its own defence organisation, the Orange Volunteers”. The Grand Lodge was not amused.

Though there was a high turnout for the Ulster Hall meeting this had much to do with being at the right place at the right time. A number of factors played a role. Sinn Féin had held a meeting in the Hall shortly beforehand and there was a need to ‘reclaim’ the building. Reference was made to this at the beginning of the night. Frustration with the Grand Lodge around issues of democracy in the organisation was and is widespread. The Spirit of Drumcree was able to mobilise that frustration. Many within the rank and file were angry at the lack of support from the Grand Master, Martin Smyth MP during the Drumcree stand-off. He had not appeared at Drumcree that July and stood accused of being an Ulster Unionist in the Grand Lodge as opposed to an Orangeman in the Ulster Unionist Party. The Grand Lodge itself is said to be ‘Ulster Unionist to a man’. The meeting was held at an opportune moment but, significantly, has never been repeated by the Spirit of Drumcree group. The retirement of Martin Smyth as Grand Master and his replacement with the popular Robert Saulters has taken some of the wind from Joel Patton’s sails.

Unedifying and Acrimonious Bickering

The May 1997 issue of the Orange Standard leads with a plea for an end to the “unedifying and acrimonious bickering and arguing being conducted within the ranks of the Order”. The ‘bickering’ in question concerned an agreement that had been reached between residents of the nationalist village of Dunloy, Co. Antrim and the Co. Antrim Grand Lodge which would have allowed for a limited number of parades in the village. Spirit of Drumcree supporters were outraged that negotiations had taken place. At a meeting held in Carnlea Spirit of Drumcree supporters dragged a county officer of the Lodge across a table in their enthusiasm to demonstrate opposition to any ‘sell-out’. The meeting was abandoned. Another was scheduled for Cloughmills on 9 April but this time no chances were taken. As Orangemen gathered at the venue 25 RUC landrovers took up position in order to prevent further clashes between those in favour and those opposed to negotiations. At the packed meeting the County Grand Lodge was forced to abandon the agreement with Dunloy residents amid cheers of ‘No surrender’. It had become clear that there were some within the Loyal Orders who would prefer not to parade at all if that meant negotiating with local residents. A second attempt by the pressure group to sabotage an agreement that had been worked out at a meeting of local people in Dromore, Co. Tyrone, a month later, was less successful. When news emerged of the compromise proposals which would allow for a parade in the village the Spirit of Drumcree faction again attempted to have the agreement overturned. Tyrone Orangemen however voted 68 to nine in favour of the compromise. It was, as the Irish News commented, a “crushing defeat” for the Spirit of Drumcree faction.

There are those within the Orange Order who regard the Drumcree stand-offs as unmitigated disasters both in terms of public relations and in regard to their own preference to avoid confrontations with their Catholic neighbours or the RUC.

Ten years on, amid an effort to rebrand Orangeism in general, disputes over contentious marches continue, as has the struggle for the hearts and minds of grassroots Orangemen. It is worth noting, however, that the Orange oath, the ‘Qualifications of an Orangeman’, still contains the lines: “He should 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; He should, by all lawful means, resist the ascendancy of that Church, its encroachments, and the extension of its power, ever abstaining from all uncharitable words, actions, or sentiments towards his Roman Catholic brethren; He should remember to keep holy the Sabbath day, and attend the public worship of God, and diligently train up his offspring, and all under his control, in the fear of God, and in the Protestant faith”.

© 2008 Irish Republican News