A wave of revulsion at chanting about the murder of a young Catholic bride on her honeymoon has brought pressure for the Orange Order to be treated alongside other racist and supremacist groups.
Michaela McAreavey was the daughter of prominent former Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) football manager Mickey Harte, who managed the County Tyrone team for 18 years.
She was married in her home village of Ballygawley, County Tyrone, on 30 December 2010 before beginning a honeymoon in Mauritius.
On 10 January 2011, Mrs McAreavey went to her hotel room to collect biscuits and was not seen alive again. Local police later said she had been strangled to death after disturbing intruders who broke into the room to steal money. No one was ever convicted of the murder.
It is thought the “song” about her death has been circulating secretly in Orange halls for years. Those involved were mostly members of a loyalist flute band.
There was public shock at the level of rehearsal and time taken to mock the murder. Most shocking was how the song was greeted, with others present clapping and laughing along.
It is understood the lyrics go: “She went to her room to get a wee treat; a bunch of strangers she did meet; they hammered and they hammered and they bate her about; John McAreavey [her husband] never gave her a shout; round and round and up and down; through the streets of Ballygawley town.”
The video has brought public attention to the depth of hate-fuelled sectarianism normally hidden from view gatherings of the anti-Catholic masonic lodges.
The incident took place on 28 May at Dundonald Orange Hall, which hosted a pre-march event before Orangemen marched from Stormont to Belfast city centre to celebrate the partition of the island.
A petition has begun circulating for the British government to place the Orange Order on a list of proscribed dangerous supremacist groups such as ‘National Action’ and ‘National Socialist Order’. Such a move would mark a major pivot by the British government, which has recently indulged and even honoured leading Orangemen. The video emerged as Mervyn Gibson, Grand Secretary of the Orange Order, was being handed the title of MBE (Master of the British Empire) “in recognition of his services to the community”.
Pressure has also mounted on the BBC and other British mainstream media organisation to end the legitimisation of the Orange Order. Every year, its sectarian ‘Twelfth’ marches are treated as virtual festivals with no regard to the provocation and intimidation experienced by Catholics.
Even as “apologies” were issued by some of those identified on the video, other loyalists attempted to justify the hate by making derogatory references to her extended family.
Commentator Suzanne Breen said Michaela had “never harmed a soul in her life”. She noted that days after the video was recorded, there was no sign of any “shame, sorrow or regret” until the men involved were caught.
“Their letter of apology to the Harte and McAreavey families isn’t worth the paper it’s written on,” she wrote. “After a mask-slipping event, this is a face-saving exercise.”
The PSNI said it was investigating the incident as a hate crime. They said they were separately questioning a loyalist preacher who made an online video in which he apparently refers to Catholics as “rats” who should be dealt with by “the rifle and grenade”.
However, there is little faith among nationalists that the overwhelming Protestant police is capable of dealing with anti-Catholic hate – a TV documentary last week revealed a disturbingly high level of sectarianism and misogyny in messages exchanged by members of the force.
Sinn Féin’s deputy leader Michelle O’Neill joined those expressing solidarity with the McAreavey and Harte families.
“Hate and sectarianism have no place in our society. People deserve better. Love over hate will always win out,” she said.
She called for laws to tackle hate crimes and sectarianism must be strengthened.
“There can be no place for sectarianism, racism, misogyny or discrimination in our society,” she said.
Aontu’s Peadar Tóibín also expressed his disgust.
“That such sectarianism would be evident at an event to mark the creation of ‘a Protestant state for a Protestant people’ is not lost on many nationalists and Catholics living in the north of Ireland,” he stated.
“Serious questions must now be raised as to what state and council funding do the Orange Order and certain loyalist flute bands receive?”
The episode has also been an eye-opener for those living in the 26 Counties, many of whom were unaware of the level of anti-Catholic hate in the North. Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he was “appalled and horrified”.
“We all remember that horrific murder of Michaela McAreavey. It’s beyond comprehension that people could behave in that manner, and to be so indifferent to the trauma of that the family suffered and in the entire community.
“I think it speaks to a sectarianism and the degree of malice and hate in society that needs to be dealt with, and those involved in should apologise, in the first instance, and those involved should reflect strongly on that.
“It’s just beyond comprehension, and shocking.”