Republican News · Thursday 23 July 1998

[An Phoblacht]

Orange disorder

Laura Friel watched as the Orange Order imploded

Disarray amongst Orangemen continued this week with the resignation of several Orange Order Chaplains and the threat of resignation from around twenty more who are reported as ``considering their position''.

Less than a week ago the Orange Order had been determined to turn back the tide of history. Massing on Drumcree hill, the Order threatened not only to overrun the nationalist estate along the Garvaghy Road but overturn the Good Friday Agreement, scuppering the new Assembly before it had barely been launched.

The Drumcree standoff had been building to a showdown, the `settling' day threatened by Ian Paisley, but in the event, only the Orange Order was cut adrift.

David Jones, press officer for the Orange Order's Portadown district, was left floundering in the role of King Canute. William Bingham, Orange Chaplain for County Armagh spoke for a rising tide of dissatisfaction within the Order when he called for an end to the standoff and protests. In his pulpit address Bingham created a window of opportunity for the Order to retreat with some dignity but the Portadown lodge responded by voting unanimously to continue the protest.

A decisive statement by the Grand Masters might have made all the difference but, defensive in front of the media, they supported their ``Portadown brethren'' though without any obvious enthusiasm. A spiral into disarray became inevitable. The threatened 100,000 Orangemen massing after the Twelfth dwindled to a couple of thousand as the Order voted with its feet and stayed away. Even in the heartland of Portadown, a rally addressed by district grand master Harold Gracey failed to muster the 15,000 expected by the organisers. Less than 2,000 turned out. Drumcree began as an Orange show of strength but it increasingly demonstrated, beyond the threat of sectarian violence, the Order's marginalisation. Politically the Order was exposed as a spent force but it was a reality few Orangemen had time to come to terms with. Still determined to hold the line, David Jones said the deaths of the three boys in Ballymoney was the result of collusion between the British Crown forces and loyalists determined to discredit the Orange Order.

The fact that an articulate and educated man, an information technology officer for the Eastern Health Board, was prepared to indulge in such wild accusations indicated his desperation. He would later claim that weapons discovered during a Crown force raid of Drumcree field may have been placed there by republicans.

Orangemen were in a hole but they were determined to keep digging. Meanwhile the DUP were orchestrating a whispering campaign against the Quinn family in a last ditch attempt to distance the Drumcree stand off by claiming the motive was not sectarian. Ian Paisley Jnr. telephoned journalists to say that RUC sources had suggested the attack may have been the result of a domestic dispute and a family member had been arrested. It was a lie. Spurious rumours began to circulate that the Quinn deaths were `drug related'. It was a desperate tactic, ineffective outside the Order and only fuelling division within.

Film footage of Joel Patton of the Spirit of Drumcree denouncing Bingham as a ``traitor'' during the `Twelfth celebrations' at Pomeroy encapsulated the contending forces with the Order. Off camera Bingham was confronted again by Patton's supporters and unceremoniously thrown into a ditch. That evening Bingham met with 19 other Orange Chaplains to discuss their response to the `crisis'. Resignation from the Order was one option considered, but the meeting was reluctant to leave the field open for Patton and his ilk. When a statement supporting Bingham was released by two of his fellow chaplains, all three received death threats. For over a week, the violence of the Orange Order had been unleashed primarily against the nationalist community, now it was turning in on itself.

The new ``hate figure'', Bingham was increasingly portrayed as the saving face of Orangeism. Ruth Dudley Edwards of the Sunday Independent likened Bingham to Martin Luther King. Bingham ``a great and courageous leader'' had ``saved Northern Ireland from collapsing into anarchy,'' wrote Dudley Edwards. In fact, as a prominent leader in the Drumcree standoff, Bingham had played a key role in bringing the Six Counties to the brink of chaos. Dudley Edwards went further, ``if the Orange Order is to be saved, Bingham will have to become its Grand Master''.

The Drumcree standoff began with all pomp and ceremony by day..... it ended with murder and mayhem by night. Founded 200 years ago in the wake of a sectarian pogrom in which 60 Portadown Catholics lost their lives, the Orange Order has flourished within the sectarian operation of the Six County state. Since the Order's inception, thousands of Catholics have been murdered, tens of thousands have been forced to flee. For many Orangemen it must have seemed inexplicible when the Order began to founder last week. ``Three, nil, three, nil,'' ritually chanted Orangemen as they passed nationalist residents along the Crumlin Road, but for once the murder of the Quinn children signalled more than just three more dead taigs.

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