By Breandan MacCionnaith (eirigi Runai Ginearalta)
This week saw the latest charm offensive launched by the Orange Order.
It remains to be seen if this latest PR mission will end up in a mess similar to the annual Orangefest and blue-bag display or even that which surrounded by Orange Order’s plagiarism of a well-known cartoon character back in 2008 in a previous PR failure. The latter was quietly dropped by the Order, unlike their contentious parades.
On Tuesday of this week, Drew Nelson, Grand Secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, addressed members of the 26-County Seanad in Dublin.
As expected, Nelson’s speech glossed over the inherent sectarian nature of the organisation and its role in fomenting sectarian violence, murder, intimidation and division or in advocating and implementing religious and political discrimination during the two centuries-old history of the Order.
Anyone naive enough to have expected that Nelson was prepared to don the sackcloth and ashes would have been sorely disappointed.
Nelson used the occasion to point the finger of blame for the Orange Order’s woes at others, namely various British military and political figures who, at different times, “used” the Order. He conveniently forgot to mention the evidence which shows that the Order very actively lobbied those same military and political figures urging them to make “use” of those loyal subjects within the Order’s ranks.
Unsurprisingly, according to Nelson, contention over Orange parades was a dastardly plot thought up in the late 1980s by republicans to discredit the Order. Once again, Nelson chose to ignore demonstrable historical evidence, including several damning inquiries by his beloved Westminster parliament into the activities of the Orange Order.
He also forgot to mention a legal case taken by former British NIO minister, Adam Ingram, against George Galloway in 2004. Ingram, a member of the Orange Order in his youth, had objected to a passage in Galloway’s book, entitled I’m Not The Only One, which described the former Stormont minister as, in his youth, playing the flute in a “sectarian, anti-Catholic, Protestant-supremacist Orange Order band”.
But the Court of Session in Edinburgh rejected the motion for an injunction which would have halted publication of the book. A judge at the Court of Session ruled that the adjectives applied by Mr Galloway, such as “anti-Catholic” and “protestant-supremacist”, were fair comment.
Nelson also urged the Twenty-Six County state to consider re-joining the British Commonwealth - music, no doubt, to ears of some among his audience.
And, of course, there was his appeal to have an Orange parade facilitated though Dublin city streets.
This was the clever and sinister ploy hidden behind the smokescreen of charm.
Nelson knows that were such a parade through a commercial part of Dublin city centre to be successfully held, then the Order would openly demand that Twenty-Six County politicians use their influence to neutralise opposition to sectarian parades in the Six Counties, much in the same way that the so-called “Derry model” was once used by some to try and facilitate Orange marches through other nationalist communities in Belfast, Portadown and elsewhere.
A march though a commercial area of any city is not comparable to one which deliberately and provocatively goes through a working-class nationalist residential area while ignoring other less contentious and non-controversial alternative routes.
It would be both foolhardy and wrong for anyone to suggest otherwise.
But that is exactly the outcome the Order hopes will eventually emerge from their Dublin visit.
Now that the Orange Order’s voice has been heard within the Seanad, the onus is clearly on those who invited Drew Nelson and his colleagues to ensure those who are most affected by the Orange Order’s annual “cultural expressions” also have their voices heard within those same confines.
Nelson’s audience in the Seanad may wish to consider comments, also made this week, by the Reverend Sally Foster-Fulton, convenor of the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council. She had responded on Scottish Television to a public attack by the Orange Order upon that Church’s decision to maintain a neutral stance on the forthcoming referendum there.
Foster-Fulton stated: “The Orange Order has shown itself again and again to be out of date and out of time. The Church of Scotland is proud of what our faith has given and continues to give our nation. 21st Century Scotland is a multi-cultural nation where faith, faithfulness and belief takes many forms. By celebrating difference we show confidence in who we are. It is those who demand that their voice be heard above others who have lost the moral high ground.
“Our concern in the referendum debate is to argue, whatever the outcome, for fairness in our economic system, support for the silenced and the dispossessed, care for creation, rehabilitation in our justice system and other core values of our faith. Our role in the referendum debate will be active and will be clear. We shall provide spaces where people of differing views can listen to each other in respect and in dignity. We shall support real dialogue between all the people who make up this nation as it is they, and not one institution or organisation, who shall determine our nation’s future.”
That alternative view of the Orange Order is one which those within Leinster House would do well to promote rather than engage in PR makeovers for an organisation not only discredited in Ireland but in Scotland as well.