A Cold House for Protestants?

Challenge over ‘cold house’

As one committed to the principle of civil and religious liberty for all, I welcome the free public expression of views and aspirations. It is only by such talking that we can understand each other in society and pave the way to a new Ireland of equals.

At times, however, those who make such public expressions need to be challenged. One such recent case was a speech by Drew Nelson, the Grand Secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, to Newtownards District Orange Lodge (News Letter, February 3, 2007).

The substance of the Grand Secretary’s remarks require to be addressed. Mr Nelson complains about “declining moral standards”, and rightly so. But surely the Institution has contributed to that decline. The public events of the last decade are an ample display of that. The Loyal Orange Institution of Ireland could make a positive contribution to raising the moral standards of the nation if the Institution applied its own moral standards to its own members. This it has evidently failed to do.

He is right, of course, to complain about the “liberalisation of betting and gaming legislation”. The National Lottery is, of course, gambling, and the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland correctly decided not to take any funds from such sources. However, that did not stop some senior Orangemen from doing so. Neither did it prevent Orange halls from using lottery funding, in clear contravention of Grand Lodge policy.

Mr Nelson is quite right to condemn a government “which gives continued concessions to the heirs of violent republicanism”. Some of us, however, can recall a warning given a decade ago that we could not complain about the Government failing to deal with lawbreakers if we, as an Institution, did the same. We did, and gave an amnesty to the “Spirit of Drumcree”!

I must question the statement that there is a “rift” between the Government and the Order. A rift implies a relationship which once existed and has now broken. What was the nature of this relationship and when did it exist? I am not aware of any relationship in the last 30 years.

Mr Nelson claims that the Orange Order is the “largest cultural organisation in the Protestant community”. This stands in contradiction to what he previously described as the first “core value” of the Institution – “the preservation and propagation of the Protestant religion” (Belfast Telegraph, April 28, 2006).

Mr Nelson expresses a view that Ulster is becoming a “cold house” for Protestants. Is the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, of which he is the Grand Secretary, not equally a “cold house” for authentic Orangemen? He should also consider the divisive intervention of the Orange Institution by his own Grand Master, Robert Saulters, as he sought to bring his influence to bear on how unionists should vote in the last Westminster general election.

The underlying question which confronts us on reading these remarks is, for whom does he speak?

I accept that Mr Nelson can speak of the Orange Order; he has been, after all, elected to the post of Grand Secretary. He cannot, however, speak for Protestants, the vast majority of whom want nothing to do with the Orange Order, and would not recognise his right to speak for them.

The Orange Institution, with its increasingly declining numbers, no longer, if it ever did, speak for the broad Protestant community. The numerical strength of the Orange Order today is only one tenth of the numerical strength of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland – which itself is only one of the three main Protestant churches.

• Brian Kennaway’s book The Orange Order: A Tradition Betrayed is due out in paperback in April.


This opinion piece appeared in the Belfast News Letter on 6th February 2007