By Brian Feeney (for the Irish News)
Rev Brian Kennaway’s new book The Orange Order: A Tradition Betrayed is causing quite a stir, mainly it has to be said among Protestants, unionists and Orangemen.
Writing the book was a courageous exercise by Kennaway because its publication places him among a minuscule number of people from the Protestant and/or unionist community who have publicly criticised ‘their own side’.
The book is an indictment of the leadership of the Orange Order, particularly in the last 10 years.
As Kennaway wrote in a newspaper article: “The major issues facing the order in recent years have been the relationship with loyalist paramilitaries, violence at confrontational parades, the unwillingness to exercise discipline and the inability of the leadership to give leadership.”
Nationalists will reject the whole thesis of the book and laugh at the notion that the Orange Order was ever anything but a politico-religious conspiracy ready to offer violence to deny Catholics an equal role in society in Ireland.
They would question the use of the word ‘recent’ and ask where Kennaway was when the Orange Order gave over its halls in the 1970s to UDA and Orange Volunteers to drill in or when the UDA, with the connivance of the RUC, openly policed Orange marches through the Tunnel in Portadown in the seventies.
Did Orange lodges only begin to march behind UVF and UDA bands in the 1980s?
Nevertheless, despite its serious shortcomings, the point is that Kennaway has written the book, an act which makes him one of a very select band from his tradition who have not always taken the line ‘my own side, right or wrong’.
This blindness contrasts sharply with the nationalist side where there have been virulent and sometimes physical, disputes between SF and SDLP and between SF and the Catholic Church over the decades.
This silence goes right to the heart of the nature of British administration here because it’s official.
When you read the details in the Irish News this week of what was going on between the police and army and loyalist terrorists you ask yourself, who knew about state-sponsored killing?
The answer must be hundreds but more likely thousands of unionist politicians, police, civil servants and transient British politicians and officials. They all knew that the UDR was riddled with UVF and UDA, that indeed some UDR units were simply UDA men without balaclavas.
They all knew intelligence about the nationalist community passed freely to loyalists, as loyalists themselves admitted.
RUC reservists, prison warders, UDR/UDA/UVF men all drank together in the same clubs. In fact, in some cases they were all the same men. Of course nationalists suspected as much and repeatedly made allegations of collusion which were just as repeatedly denied. We now know those denials were all lies, official lies.
Republicans, who were mainly on the receiving end of the conspiracy to kill which the British administration managed here, made the most lurid allegations which were derided and dismissed because of the very fact that it was republicans making them.
It now turns out that republicans were correct; indeed that their most outrageous allegations only lifted the hem of the curtain.
Yet the extraordinary tribal solidarity of unionism and the British administration here meant that no-one broke rank, no-one said a word.
Oh yes, we have Jonty Brown now writing about UDA control of Rathcoole 30 years ago and Special Branch conspiracy to kill, maybe even to kill him. Again, where was he 20 years ago?
You’ll notice no unionist endorses anything Jonty Brown or Brian Kennaway says, except in Kennaway’s case David Trimble, himself rejected by unionism so he has nothing to lose by telling the truth to Orangemen.
Few people now remember the late Jack Hassard - a Protestant from Dungannon - and the flak he took when he resigned from the sham Police Authority in 1978 saying that both the chief constable and secretary of state knew what was going on in Castlereagh interrogation centre.
Few will remember that when one police surgeon blew the whistle on the beatings, some low dog in the NIO immediately told the media it was only because the surgeon’s wife had been raped by an SAS man.
Yes, it takes courage to break ranks.