By Jim Gibney (for Irish News)
The RUC has gone. The UDR was disbanded.The RIR dissolved. British military bases across the north were dismantled. Political prisoners were released. Republican and loyalist organisations decommissioned their weapons and called an end to their armed campaigns. Nationalists and unionists are working power-sharing institutions on an all-lreland basis.
Politics here has changed beyond belief in the past decade. These developments did not happen by waving a magic wand. They arose out of decisions that were made by the Irish and British governments and by republican, unionist and loyalist parties - all protagonists in the Irish conflict and all accepting they have a responsibility to make compromises.
Yet despite all of these ground-breaking events the Orange Order - an institution whose existence and political impact on this country predates many of those mentioned above by a century or more - has thus far remained aloof, impervious to the changes that have taken and are taking place.
The Orange Order acts as if it has no responsibility for the decades of conflict, as if it is as harmless an organisation as the girl guides or the boy scouts.
Its public utterances suggest it is bewildered as to why nationalists view it as sectarian and anti-Catholic, why its marches are considered displays of domination over the nationalist and Catholic people and why a few of its marches are opposed by nationalist residents.
This inability of the Orange Order to see itself as others see it stems from its arrogant and superior attitude and the deference towards it from unionist parties and the way successive British governments indulged it as it swaggered its power on the public roads across the six counties.
The order’s attempts to present itself as the victim of a conspiracy by republicans reinforces the belief that it is in denial about its involvement in the recent conflict and its historical role going back to its formation at the end of the 18th century.
Its stance in relation to marching down the Garvaghy Road in Portadown is a pertinent example of how removed it is from the changing times.
Week on week for the past several years it has lodged papers with the PSNI seeking approval to march down the Garvaghy Road on what it rather quaintly describes as its ‘return journey home’ from Drumcree Church.
Every Sunday during this time a small band of Orangemen bedecked in their Orange regalia have marched to the police lines blocking their route and demanded access to the Garvaghy Road.
To the local and wider nationalist people this behaviour is viewed as intimidation. Yet the Orange Order presents it, perversely, as an example of its dedication to uphold what it sees as its right to march and by extension upholding for society a fundamental democratic right.
But why has the order never considered the suggestion made by senior loyalist Jackie McDonald in a recent interview in the Belfast Telegraph stating that the order should voluntarily walk away from and not along the Garvaghy and Ormeau roads? McDonald’s comments are the first by a senior unionist figure to challenge the order in the way it needs to be challenged from within its own community.
It is long past the time that other unionists in the DUP and the UUP made similar calls to the order instead of pandering to them for fear that it will cost their parties votes in an election.
There is no expectation within the broad nationalist and republican community that the Orange Order should be allowed to march on the Garvaghy or Ormeau roads or anywhere else where it is not welcome.
Republicans have no intention of persuading those communities who are opposed to Orange marches to give way in their opposition.
These communities have been deeply hurt by the Orange Order. The order is carrying a burden of responsibility towards these communities which it must shed as a goodwill gesture towards them.
And when it has made this gesture it should accept that never again will it walk in areas where it is not welcome like Garvaghy, Ormeau and Springfield roads, Ardoyne, Short Strand, Rasharkin and Dunloy. Then the Orange Order will begin to find a different, more acceptable place in Irish political life.