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.