The future of the Orange Order – “the time has come to abandon policies which have failed to deliver”

By Rev Brian Kennaway, 

former Convenor, Education Committee, Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland.

If what Robin Eames said on May 18, 1999 is true – that “Drumcree is a cameo of the Northern Ireland situation” – then all does not look well for the future.

Standing where I am, I can analyse with some thoroughness the deficiencies of one of the parties.  Perhaps someone from the ‘other side’ will have the courage and integrity to look honestly at their deficiencies and responsibilities.

The first problem is the relationship of the Orange Order to the Parades Commission.   This was an anathema to many within the institution, yet it was the failure of the institution to deal with the confrontation over parading which set in motion the train of events which resulted in the establishment of a Parades Commission.

This problem must be acknowledged and addressed by the institution if we are to face up to reality.

Adding to the confusion, the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland decided as a matter of policy to have no contact, directly or indirectly, with the Parades Commission.  As everyone is well aware, this has not been adhered to.  Throughout the country Orangemen are talking to the Commission and its authorised officers.  More recently 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 and Nigel Dodds visited the commission.  This was followed by a delegation from Craigavon Borough Council which included, David Jones.  Presumably these men did not cease to be Orangemen when they entered Windsor House.

Then we had the absurd situation on Thursday, July 5, when Grand Loge officers faxed a submission to the commission thereby again contradicting their own stated policy.

Is it not time to call 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?”

This recent 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 recommended: “The loyal orders should recognise the Parades Commission. It has been created by parliament.”

The law which established the Parades Commission is the law of the United Kingdom, to which Orangemen so often pledge their allegiance:  “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 problem is seen in 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.

Two members of Grand Lodge, David McNarry, and Joel Patton, were involved in a live TV broadcast which included Gerry Adams and Brendan McKenna.

Unionist politicians 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 Order.

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 institution’s own position is “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.”

The third problem is seen in the failure 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.

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.

The fourth problem is seen in relation to problem of identity.  When Dr Eames addressed the General Synod in 1999, he did so against the back-drop of three previous stand-off’s.  One of the most challenging parts of his address stated: “The real question for members of the Orange Order to address is whether they wish to be regarded as members of a religious or a political movement.”

In an “Information Booklet”, the institution affirmed:  “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– how can we refuse to talk to anyone made in the image of God?

Obviously the time has come to 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.

This is offered as a sincere attempt to analyse the deficiencies of our Orange position.

Does anyone have the courage and integrity to look honestly at the deficiencies of the ‘other side’?

This article appeared in the Belfast Telegraph on 13th July 2001