The Orange Order: made to hate

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And so once more, we come to the Day of Division, or the Twelfth of July.

Over the years I have pointed out to individual unionists that the Orange Order is an anti-Catholic organisation, and on each occasion it has provoked real anger. I don’t remember them denying that it is anti-Catholic, but I do remember their rage. One included unionist David McNarry, who stormed out of a BBC studio in mid-interview, denouncing me as being ‘not an Orangeman but a nonentity and a rebel.’

I’m guessing they didn’t attempt to rebut the charge since in its origin, its ordinances and its history it is consistently anti-Catholic. It was founded after a sectarian clash which left some thirty Catholics dead. Its rules require that you be not a Catholic, that you are not married to a Catholic and that you have refrained from attending worship in a Catholic church. Its history since its violent beginnings is consistently anti-Catholic. The best historical account of this violent history remains Andy Boyd’s Holy War in Belfast. In the nineteenth century, the British government banned the organisation for several years, such was its ability to create division and violence. In our own time we have had Drumcree, the burning to death of three little boys, the killing of a Catholic taximan, and the infamous display by a marcher of five fingers as they passed the Sean Graham bookie’s shop where five innocent people were gunned down.

Some unionists insist it’s a key part of their culture. Dear God. A tradition that has left many dead. A tradition that encourages sectarian songs and contempt for Catholics. A tradition that successfully inflames tensions each year and widens divisions among our people.

Maybe we could start by having the police in attendance paid for by the Orange Order, not the public purse. Maybe we could have some honesty from the Orange Order about its nature, rather than unimpressive calls for Catholics to learn more about the true nature of the Order.

The Orange Order celebrations have, for two-and-a-half centuries, driven an annual wedge between Catholic and Protestant, between nationalist and unionist. Dare we hope that some day, a unionist leader will have the cojones to call it for what it is, and to work towards the ending of the annual hatefest?

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