A Tradition Betrayed

A tradition betrayed


The Rev Brian Kennaway, one of the Orange Order’s most senior and outspoken members, says the core values of the society have been betrayed by a section of the membership who are divorced from the core values of Orangeism, and by a leadership unwilling to take the necessary risks to restore the public image of institution

To speak of the Orange Order in the opening decade of the 21st century conjures up all kinds of images in the popular mind. Usually, images of confrontation and violence, as the institution is perceived to want to walk where they are not wanted.

Yet things might have been very different. Had the Loyal Orange Institution of Ireland, at its various levels, been given the necessary leadership to adapt to today’s society, the public image would have been very different.

It is unfortunate in this day and age when the Gaelic Athletic Association can dispose of their Rule 21, which prohibited members of the police and army from joining, that Irish Orangeism cannot follow the example of Canadian Orangeism and dispose of their rules on the prohibition of members marrying Roman Catholics.

The real issue facing the order is public image but there are many reasons which lie behind this.

There is the lack of understanding that public image is determined by public practice and therefore if public image is to change so also must practice. These I have endeavoured to cover in my book so that those both inside and outside, the organisation might better understand the order’s present dilemma.

Underlying all the problems which the order faces today is this question – Is the Orange Institution a religious organisation with a political element or a political organisation with a religious element?

The often affirmed religious values of the Orange Order have been publicly challenged in recent years – not by the enemy without, but by the public behaviour of some of the membership, whose activities obviously stands in stark contrast the professed ideals of the institution.

When the ideals of tolerance, religious piety, citizenship and brotherhood are contradicted in practice, the order itself becomes a danger to its own existence. If the religious basis is not right there is little hope for the future.

The religious basis was further undermined in 1998 when the Grand Lodge dissolved its “special relationship” with the main Protestant churches.

The public attack of the grand master on the leadership of the main Protestant churches, in June 1999, and the labelling of the “established” churches as having an “ecumenical atmosphere”, by the grand secretary in 2003 have added further to the movement of the institution from one based on faith to that of culture.

The practical problems facing the institution are obvious to any observer of the Northern Ireland scene. The lack of discipline is of fundamental importance.

Discipline is not easy in any voluntary organisation, but all the instances of criminal offences which have come into the public domain in recent years, have left those members of the institution who adhered to the authentic core values of the institution, in despair.

The statement by Denis Watson, grand secretary, Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, on BBC (NI) Spotlight October 17 2000, that “Anyone convicted of a criminal offence is automatically expelled from the institution”, was fiction, not fact.

The obvious lack of discipline is bad enough but it is the promises of discipline which never come to fulfilment which have left rank-and-file Orangemen in a state of despondency.

This became evident following the events at Drumcree on July 7 2002 when 15 arrested faced criminal charges.

This was followed by promises of “we will be investigating . . . we will deal with this”, only to result in a rally in support of those charged, amid allegations by the grand master that they were “set-up”.

When I joined the Orange Institution in 1964 the accepted practice was that when anyone was in trouble with the law, the first thing they did was to resign from the institution rather than bring the order into disrepute.

Generally the membership attempted to display the ideals of Orangeism: “by setting a good example in our daily lives, by living up to the high principles of the order so that every section of the community will be compelled to admit that there is something in the Orange Society that elevates a man and raises him above the average of humanity. Something that makes him a better man morally, socially and intellectually.”

The leadership of the Orange Institution have yet to face up to what is more than a “perceived” paramilitary connection. Sammy Duddy, spokesman of the Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG), the political wing of the UDA, stated: “It’s time to admit that the Orange Order has always used the paramilitaries as the big stick.

“They use them to police their parades through contentious areas. They use them as their army when it suits and then wash their hands if things turn out badly.

“It is time someone made the point of that. Certain sections of the UDA are now saying: ‘No more are we going to be used by the Orange Order.'”(Sunday Times, September 18 2005)

The attempts by those of us in the education committee to make the institution better understood in the wider community, by a variety of publications, addressing audiences throughout Ireland, and the organising of a successful dinner to commemorate the 1798 rebellion, were brought to nothing by an organised internal conspiracy.

All these issues of criminal convictions, lack of enforcement of discipline and the now quite obvious paramilitary connection in parts of Belfast as well as internal conspiracies, have had an accumulative effect of the image of the institution.

These problems are cemented together by a leadership which has failed to give clear and precise direction in keeping with the institution’s own standards.

This has resulted in the order now being a danger to its own principles, as it gratuitously gives propaganda victories to its enemies.

The core values of the founding fathers of the Orange Association have been betrayed by a section of the membership who are divorced from the core values of Orangeism, and by a leadership unwilling to take the necessary risks to restore the public image of institution. Therefore stated principle and public practice stand in stark contrast.

· The Orange Order: A Tradition Betrayed, by the Rev Brian Kennaway, is published by Methuen today. 


This article appeared in The Guardian on 27 April 2006