Orange Discipline

“Don’t expect the order to discipline Orangemen”


The prospect of Orangemen being disciplined by the order for taking part in the violence at Drumcree on Sunday is remote, writes Brian Kennaway

Following the violence at Drumcree again on Sunday night, the Executive

Officer of the Orange Order, George Patton, said: “We will be investigating. . . we will deal with this.”  However the promise of disciplinary action against the Orangemen involved is unlikely to be carried out, to go by previous experience.


I am now just a “rank and file” Orangeman and I am distraught – like most rank and file Orangemen by the violence associated with Drumcree in recent years.

I support the right of Portadown District and agree with David Burrows when he said that this violence does not help the Orange cause.  The decision of the Parades Commission is based on the objection of the Garvaghy Road residents – therefore every stone thrown and every foul word spoken is only giving credence and ammunition to those who oppose the parade.

The promise of disciplinary action by the Executive Officer may well be a matter of, “Tell me the old old story”.  We have, after all, heard all this before – but we have seen no results.

We have had promises of discipline in relation to the Harryville Chapel protest.   The Grand Master, Robert Saulters, was interviewed by Gary Kent for the Irish Post on 15th March 1997.  Garry Kent wrote;- “Disciplinary action is also promised against any Orange Order members who participated in Harryville pickets whilst wearing their Orange collarettes.  Saulters has himself studied the photographs but has said he couldn’t identify any participants.  There would be definitive action by June, if not before.” 

While wearing an Orange Collarette does not necessarily make you an member of the Orange Order – Collarettes are a penny a dozen- there were a number of those involved in the Harryville picket who were members of the Orange Order. They were easily identified from photographs.  No discipline was exercised against any Orangeman in reference to Harryville, in spite of the presence of a number of prominent Orangemen among the ranks of the protesters.

Individuals involved were identified, the rules are there to deal with such situations, but no one had the courage to implement the Rules and stand up to the thugs and bully boys.  Contrary to the promise of the Grand Master to Gary Kent, no one was to face ‘definitive action’ over Harryville.

Neither did anyone face disciplinary action over their involvement in the “SPIRIT OF DRUMCREE”.  This factious group which began following the first Drumcree stand-off in 1995 was to cause serious damage to the Institution.

On the evening of Thursday 27th March 1997, the half yearly meeting of County Antrim Grand Orange Lodge was unable to take place, because of the arrival of bus loads of “Spirit of Drumcree” supporters.  The meeting, had to be abandoned, amid scenes of violent disorder.  The I.R.A. in over thirty years of terrorism had not managed to achieve what the “Spirit of Drumcree” had achieved – the abandonment of a County Grand Lodge meeting.

Urged on by their “success” in County Antrim, the “Spirit of Drumcree” occupied Orange Headquarters in Belfast on Tuesday 9th December and prevented the Grand Lodge from meeting there the following day.

This provoked the assurances of discipline from the Grand Master.  He was quoted in the Belfast Telegraph of Thursday 11th December as saying that, they will “have to be dealt with”.  The Future was to reveal that ‘dealt’ was to become ‘deal’.  No one was to face disciplinary action over their membership of the “Spirit of Drumcree”.

Grand Lodge Press statements constantly attempt to disassociate the Institution from paramilitary activity.  The Executive Officer is quoted in the Irish News of 6th November 1999:-

“Our rules are quite explicit. If anyone is involved in paramilitary activity they will be disciplined by expulsion from the order, you can’t be a member of the Order and a loyalist paramilitary group.”

This is a contradiction of what the Master of a Belfast Lodge, which had a number of members convicted and imprisoned for paramilitary activity, says in Peter Taylor’s book “Loyalists”.

“We don’t throw them out because they’re brethren, . . . but to us these guys are not  criminals, they’re victims of circumstances.”

No one was disciplined for sending out contradictory messages.

Violence associated with successive Drumcree’s is nothing new.  In July 1998 David Jones was quoted as saying about those involved in violence:- “It would be a matter for each lodge but there would certainly be disciplinary action”.

Denis Watson, the Grand Secretary, stated in BBC Spotlight 17th October 2000:-“Anyone convicted of a criminal offence is automatically expelled from the Institution”.  This of course was a contradiction of the Master of a Belfast Lodge.

There were those who did face the courts on charges of criminal damage, over the Drumcree conflict.  None were expelled from the Institution as a result.


Patsy McGary is right “Orangemen cannot be absolved from blame for the vicious rioting”.  If the confidence of the Protestant and Unionist population is to be restored in the Orange Institution, acts of public disorder should be followed by acts of public discipline.  The community must know that people are being dealt with and precisely how they have been dealt with.

All the public relations in the world will not put a good spin on this.  It is unfortunate that the PR Orange spokesman has been begrudging in condemnation of the violence, and blaming it on “mindless thugs”.  If they were, they were also ‘brethren’.  As the world saw they were the, “doughty sons of Ulster, proudly wearing their Orange Collarettes”.

To expect discipline this time is ‘hope triumphing over experience”.  I for one will not be holding my breath.

The Rev. Brian Kennaway, a Presbyterian clergyman, is a former education convenor of the Grand Orange Lodge


This opinion piece appeared in the Irish Times on 10th July 2002