It’s time for the decent Orangeman to be heard

It’s time for the decent Orangeman to be heard

For many the events of recent day have no doubt brought to mind Karl Marx’s dictum, “. . . history repeats itself the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce “.  Here we have it yet again.  The same language in the press as in previous years, as leader writers and commentators struggle, but fail, to write up to date articles without repeating all the well worn words of the past.  The language is repetitive of the previous years.

It might appear that we have made absolutely no progress in two years when we read the Editorial of the Belfast Telegraph on Wednesday 29th July 1998 which stated:-

“The Orange Order which should be showing leadership, is, frankly, in turmoil.  It has a much wider community to represent than the Orangemen at Portadown, yet it lent its weight to a campaign at Drumcree against a legal ruling that was always likely to end in chaos and tears, damaging its long-term interests.  The world could see how the Order was being cynically used by anti-agreement politicians to confront the government, but no one, until some brave chaplains, shouted “Stop!”

Small wonder that rank-and-file Orangemen are just as confused as anyone else about the Order’s future policy.  From the outside it seems obvious that if the proximity talks are stalled, sooner or later, with or without pre-conditions, there must be direct talks.”

Even a cursory reading of the press today will reveal that the Orange Institution is being blasted on all sides by reputable commentators, who place the blame for the present crisis on the inability of the Institution to address this long-standing problem.  The key of the problem is seen by many as the policy established by the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, that there should be no contact with the Parades Commission.

The history of the events surrounding this policy is in the public domain.  In December 1997 the Grand Lodge decided that there should be no contact with the Parades Commission until the newly appointed Parades Strategy Committee had reported.  This subsequently became the policy of Grand Lodge and has remained so, in spite of two recent well publicised attempts to reverse this policy, the most recent being initiated by Portadown District Lodge.

An over-emphasis on policy in any organisation can be a very dangerous thing.  As in any organisation, so in the Orange Institution, when people join they agree to be bound by the rules, not by policy.   When policy predominates in an organisation it is an indication that the organisation had lost its way.  If policy decisions do not have the backing of the vast majority of the members, then there is the danger of losing the support of a proportion of the membership, and the decision making body becomes less relevant.

However, as is commonly known, the policy in regard to the Parades Commission is being kept in the breach – in spite of the most recent decision of Grand Lodge.  Portadown District are not the only District making representations to the Commission.

Why should an organisation like the Orange Institution tear itself apart, time and time again, over a policy which is not being adhered to?  Why should a policy which has not produced any positive results become a matter of principle?  Is there a failure to understand the relationship between principles and policy?  Is it not understood that policy should be pragmatic?

The events of recent days have left ordinary rank-and-file members both confused and bewildered, as to both the direction and future of an Institution pledged to uphold ‘civil and religious liberty’.

What kind of society have we witnessed being created when we find a respectable Orangeman at Drumcree being overheard saying “only violence pays – but we don’t like it”?  Brid Rodgers who posed the question, “who speaks for the Orange Order, Harold Gracy or Robert Saulters?”, is not the only one asking such questions.

The ordinary decent Orangeman, whose voice is not being heard, is appalled by the violent scenes on our television screens.  The Orange tradition reflected there is not his, but he feels a sense of powerlessness.  His tradition is witnessed in his community as he works out, in community and church life, the core values of tolerance, brotherhood, respect of Sunday,  and observance of the laws.

It was Edmund Burke who said:- “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.” (Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents) (1770)

Decent Orangemen must stand up and proclaim that the shameful events of recent days, are not being done in their name.  It is too late to just walk away silently from it.

It seems unreal, that the following words appeared in an article in the Belfast Telegraph on Wednesday 15th July 1998, from Rev. Dr. Warren Porter:-

“Do we really want actively to pursue a programme of peace and a positive sharing of our evangelical faith with all our fellow-countrymen, or are we to be wedded to a policy of confrontation issuing in bitterness, bigotry, burning and eventual death and destruction?

Do we follow Christ’s way or the way of unregenerate men?  The one way will honour our own principles and bring blessing to our land.  The other has nothing to offer but misery.  The choice is ours!  The silent will have to speak.  The decent will have to stand.”

The words of July 1998 apply also to July 2000.  It would appear that the ‘not an inch’ philosophy has meant that we have not learned any of the lessons of the past.  Nor have we made any progress into a new future.  One cannot help but wonder if we will be reading the same comments and editorials in July 2001!

Rev. Brian Kennaway

Former Convenor of the Education Committee

Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland.


This article appeared in the Belfast Telegraph on 11th July 2000