Personally speaking: Time for Loyal Orders to Change

Time for Loyal Orders to Change

If Drumcree is a microcosm of the situation in Northern Ireland then, we had better face up to reality.  In particular we had better face up to the reality of the two other ‘D’ words which have been profiled in the parades dispute in the past, and learn from that past.

Dungiven may mean very little to many today, yet in the early 1960’s it was the ‘line in the sand’.  The parade through the County Londonderry village was banned by an Orangeman, W.W.B. Topping.  Topping was the Minister of Home Affairs in the Northern Ireland Government.  No one today would dream of organising an Orange parade through Dungiven.

Dunloy is another parade of the past.  Like Dungiven, Dunloy was not banned by the Parades Commission but by the Royal Ulster Constabulary.  There has not been any orange parade in Dunloy since 1995, in spite of encouragements by leading Orangemen to negotiate through Mediation Network.  The willingness of local residents to accommodate three parades a year was betrayed by local politics.

If the Orange Institution is to remain a parading organisation in the twenty-first century it must look at itself rather than constantly looking at and blaming others.  Some fundamental issues have to be addressed and new thinking is called for to defeat the negative image presently being projected.

The first issue is the relationship of the Orange Order to of the Parades Commission.  The Parades Commission came into existence as a result of the acceptance by Her Majesty’s Government of the Independent Review of Parades and Marches, (North Report), published 30th January 1997.  The very fact that the Government should set up a ‘review’ of the parading issue was anathema to many within the Institution, yet it was the failure of the Institution to deal with the confrontation over parading, particularly at Drumcree in 1996, which set in motion the train of events which resulted in the establishment of a Parades Commission.  This must be acknowledged and addressed by the Institution if we are to face up to reality.

To add to the confusion the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland decided as a matter of policy, not to recognise the Parades Commission.  On the 10th December 1997, it was decided that there should be no further contact with the Parades Commission.  As everyone is well aware, this has not been adhered to.  Throughout the country there are District Lodges, and Private Lodges, who respond to and discuss with, the Commission and with its Authorised Officers, and now leading Orangemen under various guises have, quite sensibly, tried to make up the deficit created by the Grand Lodge of Ireland’s mistaken policy.

Thus, in the run-up to the Whiterock Parade the Rev Martin Smyth the former Grand Master, and Nigel Dodds the newly elected Member of Parliament for North Belfast, also an Orangeman, visited the Parades Commission on Friday 29th June.  This was followed on Tuesday 3rd July 2001 by a delegation from Craigavon Borough Council which included the newly elected Councillor, David Jones, the Press Officer for Portadown District Lodge.  Presumably these men did not cease to be Orangemen when they entered Windsor House.

Then we have the absurd situation on Thursday 5th June when Grand Lodge Officers faxed a submission to the Parades Commission thereby again contradicting their own stated policy of not “recognising” the Commission.

Of course it is nothing new to learn there have been meetings between the Parades Commission and senior Officers of Grand Lodge, not to speak of the proposed ‘clandestine’ meeting requested by Denis Watson, the Grand Secretary.  How can right prosper when there is such a disparity  between private and public statements?

Is it not time to recall the traditional values of Orangeism often stated as-

“We must all endeavour to disarm suspicion and antagonism.  This can best be done 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?”

Such behaviour exposes the Order to the accusation of hypocrisy.  It could also be argued that it is disloyal.  The Parades Commission is established by law.   As Austin Morgan QC. stated in his “practical recommendations”:-

“The loyal orders should recognize the Parades Commission.  It has been created by parliament.  It has the power to make “legal” determinations.  Active engagement can only improve the position for particular lodges etc. . . ”


The law which established the Parades Commission is the law of the United Kingdom, to which Orangemen so often pledge their allegiance.  For example the BASIS of the Institution states:- “The Institution is composed of Protestants, united and resolved to the utmost of their power to support and defend . . .  the Laws of the Realm”.

The second fundamental issue is our attitude to the objectors.  The residents groups which have sprung up in recent years are all alleged to be fronts for IRA/Sinn Fein.  The policy decision was made not to talk to such groups or to Sinn Fein.

This like the previous policy decision is more honoured in the breach than in the observance.  There are a number of glaring examples.  A Member of Grand Lodge, David McNarry, was involved in a live T.V. Broadcast in which he spoke to Gerry Adams directly, asking him questions.  Joel Patton, who at the time was also a member of Grand Lodge, was also involved in a T.V. broadcast which included Brendan McKenna of the Garvaghy Road Residents.  Unionist politicians, both U.U.P. and D.U.P. are sitting down regularly with Sinn Fein representatives in both Local Councils and in the Northern Ireland Assembly and its Committees.  Many of these representatives are members of the Orange Order.

To further add to the confusion the “Leader” of the Institution, Robert Saulters, declared his willingness to talk to Residents Groups on two occasions.  The first time in an address at the Ballymena Showgrounds on the afternoon of Sunday 26th July 1998 and again on the evening of Monday 5th July 1999 in an interview on Downtown Radio.  He suggested that he would favour talking to residents groups, and repeated this in an interview on the Ulster Television Programme, “Insight”, the following evening, saying that he would “call the  bluff” of the Residents groups and talk to them.

Members of the Royal Black Institution, are also members of the Orange Institution.  When they talked in Londonderry, as members of the Royal Black Institution, they did not cease to be members of the Orange Institution.  It is little wonder that the world cannot understand us!

Yet the Institutions own position is in print.  In “The Order on Parade” (1995) Page 34:- “Negotiations prior to parades between Orange Order officials and local residents are to be welcomed and indeed are not unknown in some areas.  However Orangemen must not be given the feeling that the community groups are just fronts for the I.R.A.”

In the glossy A4 booklet “Information Booklet”, produced and distributed at the time of the American Presidential visit to Belfast on 4th September 1998, the Institution affirmed,  Under the heading of “The Religious Basis of the Order”:- “The Orange Institution is a Christian organisation”.  That being the case and taking what the Institution says about itself to be authoritative, then the most fundamental question has to be addressed. If the Orange Order is a Christian organisation as it professes to be, – how can we refuse to talk to anyone made in the image of God?

The third fundamental issue is the relationship of the Institution to Bands.  In the public eye, and in practice, the band which leads a parade sets the tone of that parade.  It is the band which sends out a particular message.  If a parade is led by a well organised pipe or brass band the public response is vastly different from that of a ‘blood and thunder’ band.  The band becomes the badge which symbolises the significance of the parade.

If Bands taking part in Orange parades are of a particular rowdy type or have paramilitary connections, actual or perceived, it does little to fulfil the requirement to “disarm suspicion and antagonism.”  The general public are unable to distinguish between the band and the Orangemen parading behind it. The problem has been acknowledged by the Institution but it has not been addressed.

If the Orange Institution is to remain a parading organisation the fourth fundamental area which needs to be addressed urgently is the relationship of policy to principle.

There is a failure within the Institution to distinguish between POLICY and PRINCIPLE.  Policy is pragmatic it is therefore often fine-tuned and adjusted accordingly, in order to achieve the goals which principle lays down.  This area requires new thinking.

When policy predominates in an organisation to the exclusion of principle it is an indication that the organisation had lost its way.  But as far as the Orange Order is concerned, policy has been elevated to the status of principle.  Therein lies our inability to get off the hook of a policy which has failed to deliver the goods.

Obviously the time has come to learn from the past and abandon those policies which have failed to deliver their objectives.  The time has come when as ‘loyal subjects’ Orangemen should make proper representation to the Parades Commission.  As an organisation pledged to uphold Christian values, we should share those values face to face with the objectors.

Rev. Brian Kennaway.

(Former Convenor, Education Committee, Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland.)


This article appeared in Fortnight November 2001