UUP and the Orange Order

Clearing up the confusion

There would appear to be some confusion in the mind of many as to the present and past relationship between the Orange Order and the Ulster Unionist Party.

That confusion would even appear to extend to the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland membership, as evidenced in some of the recent statements of David McNarry (Newsletter 11 June) as to the relationship between the Orange Institution and the UUP.

John Harbinson, in “The Ulster Unionist Party, 1882-1973”, notes that while Ulster Unionism had its origins in the Reform Act of 1884, the ‘Party’ was born in 1905.

The first Constitution of the Ulster Unionist Council stated that the Council should consist of not more than 200 members of which 100 were nominated by local Unionist Associations, 50 were nominated by the Orange Order, and not more that 50 were co-opted as distinguished Unionists.

The Orange Order was therefore formally part of the Ulster Unionist Council at its inception.  It was in fact a 25% part.

In the years following the first Constitution of the Council various changes were made, the most significant being the increase in the numbers of those who made up the Council.  In 1911 the elected membership of the Council was raised to 370, and in 1918 it was raised to 432 and by 1925 it had a membership of 508.

In 1929 the Council was again re-organised and the Orange Order was represented “on a County basis according to membership”.  This gave Belfast County Grand Lodge, then the largest of the County Lodges, a representation of 36 out of a total of 128 delegates.

When the new Constitution was drawn up in 1946 and the Council increased further to 996 members the Orange Order was allocated 122 delegates, again, “on a County basis according to membership.”  This remained the position throughout the various Constitutions of the Council up to the 2005 Constitution which states; – “Up to 122 representatives of the County Grand Lodges within Northern Ireland, to be apportioned from time to time by the Party Officers”. [Rule 12 (1) (e)]

The relationship between the Orange Order and the Ulster Unionist Council has always been, since at least 1929, a relationship between the Council and the County Grand Lodges, not the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland.  Therefore when the Notice of Motion; “That the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland severs all links with the Ulster Unionist Council”, passed by a majority on its third successive reading at the Grand Lodge on 12th. March 2005, the Grand Lodge made a decision which was not within its competence to make.

Rev Brian Kennaway



This article appeared in the Belfast News Letter on June 17, 2005