No dumbing down of the Orange Order

By Danny Morrison (for Daily Ireland)

‘John’ called BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme to complain about the grant of #104,000 (O150,000) to the Orange Order.

“Why try and dress up the Twelfth as something it is not,” he said. “Why try and dress it up as a parade for Roman Catholics and Protestants to stand hand-in-hand on the street, cheering and waving when the bands go past. The 12th of July, basically, is the day that the Protestant faith overcame the Roman Catholic army of King James. At the end of the day, that’s the day the Roman Catholics were defeated.

“It’s a sort of insult to the Roman Catholic people to try and bring them on board to enjoy the Twelfth. Don’t dumb down the 12th July. It’s stupid, it’s nonsense.”

Ah yes, there’s nothing more refreshing than a pint of honesty.

If Orange marches were solely about celebrating a historical event - the Battle of the Boyne, a sideshow in a European power struggle in which the Pope cheered William of Orange’s defeat of James II - there would be no problem. However, the Orange Order’s main business has always been about perpetuating the commemoration of this historical event as a relentless domestic put-down of the defeated ‘RCs’ and keeping them in their place.

And their big problem in modern times is that ‘the RCs’ have had enough, stood up to the bullying and stopped getting on like a defeated people. That explains the statement from Orange Order spokesperson, Drew Nelson, who recently said: “The vast majority of our membership believes that the Protestant community is now the underdog in Northern Ireland and that we are heavily discriminated against in many fields.”

That must be very upsetting, except that the “poor us” argument does not wash: official figures and statistics continue to show that nationalists still suffer from sectarian discrimination and higher rates of unemployment.

To Orangemen the most important marches are not those that go through loyalist districts but those that transgress nationalist, that is, ‘Roman Catholic’ areas. ‘Kick the Pope’ tunes - a real contradiction, after all the Pope did for King Billy - sound flat on the Shankill or the Newtownards Road where no Catholics can hear them. But passing by or through a nationalist area they are truly flammatory, visceral, almost metaphysical in their power, especially when your intention is to deafen and terrify the RCs imprisoned behind the security screens, set up by your security forces for your security of passage.

If these tunes are so crucial to the Orange culture why do they omit them when they are marching through Rossnowlagh in Co Donegal?

“There is a massive gap of misunderstanding and misapprehension,” said Drew Nelson. “For people to think that an Orange Order parade is in someway about domination of one community over the other is completely wrong.”

Apologies, Drew. That’s just the impression nationalists have been left with from 1795 until about last week.

An impression that has been reinforced by an Orange disposition for provocative marching through areas in which ‘the defeated’ Roman Catholics just happen to live; by the violence at Drumcree and elsewhere; by the murders of nationalists by loyalist paramilitaries aimed at securing a march down Catholic Garvaghy Road; and by the close association between the Orange Order and participating UFF and UVF bands, to name but a few misapprehensions.

When he announced the #104,000 grant, David Hanson, minister for social development at the NIO, said that it was “to help the Orange Order promote the July 12 events as a ‘family-friendly’ attraction for Belfast and an attempt to improve community relations.

Orange Order historian, Rev Brian Kennaway (who, incidentally, is to speak at Feile an Phobail in August on the issue of marching) said: “I find it hard to believe that David Hanson knows what he’s talking about when he says this funding is aimed at promoting inclusivity. Does Mr Hanson not understand that the Orange Order is only inclusive in terms of Protestantism? By its very nature it is entirely inclusive to Protestants and excludes Roman Catholics.”

On the test of inclusivity the Order’s spokesperson Drew Nelson fell at the first post. Drew, who welcomed the British grant, is also a Belfast DUP councillor. Just 24 hours before the announcement he opposed funding for next year’s St Patrick’s Day community parade in Belfast, despite the findings of an independent survey which found that Protestants viewed the 2006 St Patrick’s carnival positively and as “a family day out”.

Another DUP councillor, William Humphrey, was asked what efforts the Orange Order would make to include Catholics in Twelfth of July celebrations. Not only can Catholics not be members of the Orange Order but neither can a Protestant who marries a Catholic. Humphrey refused to specify what they would do except to say that the Orange Order would meet with Church and business leaders - but not Sinn Féin elected representatives.

So, is there anything the Orange Order can do to make it acceptable to nationalists?

The simplest thing that the Orange Order could do to demonstrate that it is not about the “domination of one community over another” is to talk to the host communities through whose areas it wishes to parade.

To persuade such communities that these marches (celebrating their defeat as Roman Catholics and the confirmation of the Protestant ascendancy) are valid cultural expressions, relevant to the modern world, will be a difficult though not impossible task. After all, without any ‘dumbing down’ whatsoever, it only took two hundred years of Darwinian natural selection before one Irish Catholic-born person - Ruth Dudley-Edwards - emerged to rescue the hopelessly inept public relations’ efforts of the Orange Order.

And just look at how far the Order has advanced since then.

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© 2006 Irish Republican News