Ulster Unionist Party

“Finance may concentrate minds on breaking the link”

Rite & Reason

The best interests of both the Orange Order and the Ulster Unionist Party would be served by a redefinition of their relationship, says Brian Kennaway.

Over the past few years the relationship between the Orange Institution and the Ulster Unionist Party has been the subject of some discussion.  The fog which surrounds this relationship has meant that much of this discussion has been ill-informed.  Whether this is a genuine result of ignorance or malevolence is an open question.

The relationship has not always been clearly understood, even by those within the both the Party and the Institution.  The Orange Order is, along with many other groups, an affiliated body of the Ulster Unionist Council.

As a result of this affiliation seven of the eight County Grand Lodges in Northern Ireland, (Belfast, Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Tyrone and the County of Londonderry), have, according to the present Constitution of the Ulster Unionist Council, the right to send, “up to one hundred and twenty-two delegates” to the Council.

These delegates are selected, “on a County basis according to membership”.  The delegates are elected annually from their various Counties, and must be members in good standing in their Unionist Party Branch.

In spite of all the discussion and speculation the Orange Institution have continued to take up their entitlement of 113 delegates to the Council – at present distributed “on a County basis according to membership” – Armagh (12), Antrim (24), Belfast (24), Down (22), Fermanagh (10), Tyrone (11), Londonderry (County) (10).

This year all the Counties, with the exception of Down who returned 17, took up their full entitlement of delegates.

Essentially therefore the relationship is between the COUNCIL and the seven County Grand Lodges, not between the Party and the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland.  Since it is the County Grand Lodge which is affiliated to the Council, the question of the retention of that affiliation is evidently a matter within the competence of the County itself.

This is not a matter for discussion at Grand Lodge level, as it is outside their competence.  The only relationship between the Grand Lodge and the Council is the Central Committee of Grand Lodge, who send twelve of those elected from their County Grand Lodges to the Executive Committee of the Ulster Unionist Party.

The fact that this relationship is not clearly understood from within the Orange Institution, was revealed when, on 5th February 1999, the County Antrim Grand Orange Lodge publicly called for the Institution to “disaffiliate from the Ulster Unionist Party”.  They revealed that they had passed a resolution to “disaffiliate”, but failed to carry through the substance of the resolution, by sending this decision to the Council of the Ulster Unionist Party.

Because the essential relationship is between the Council and the County, all that is required for a County to “disaffiliate” is for them to make the decision and communicate that decision to the Council.

This confusion was compounded by the fact that the same County which made a decision to disaffiliate also made a decision to send their full entitlement of delegates to the Council!

In spite of all their bluster, the County Antrim Grand Orange Lodge has still failed to be implemented their own decision, and continue to send delegates to the Ulster Unionist Council.

If the constitutional phrase, “on a County Basis according to membership” was to be strictly adhered to by the Ulster Unionist Council, the distribution of delegates from the various County Grand Lodges would look very different.

Given the numerical strength and distribution of membership today within the Institution, the present distribution of Delegates is clearly out of synch, when Belfast and Antrim both lay claim to 24 Delegates.

This issue of the relationship between the Institution and the Party has been brought into the public domain recently by a decision of the Ulster Unionist Council.  To add further to the difficulties of this relationship, the Council now require £100 from each Orange delegate to the Council.  It places a heavy burden on any organisation when increasing costs are to be born by a declining membership.  The Orange Institution is no exception.

This is all the more significant when both Antrim and Belfast County Lodges have to raise the sum of £2,400 each year to retain an affiliation which many are evidently unhappy about.

It might very well be that it is finance which concentrates the mind towards “breaking the link”.  It will be interesting to see which of the County Grand Lodges have the courage of their convictions and be the first to take the step.

The influence of the one hundred and thirteen Orange Delegates to the Ulster Unionist Council is, like many things within the Orange and Unionist community, largely overstated.  It would therefore be in the best interests of both the Orange Institution and the Ulster Unionist Council to redefine their relationship.

Rev Brian Kennaway is a Presbyterian minister at Crumlin in Belfast and former education converor with the Orange Order


This article appeared in the Irish Times on 13 August 2002