Platform proceedings: the Orders in their own words

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With the County Grand Lodge considering a judicial review of the Parades Commission ruling, a spokesman for the County Grand Lodge of Belfast has said:

In addition to the normal denials of rights and freedoms that the Parades Commission regularly impose, this impossible demand would deny these brethren the opportunity to attend the platform proceedings, including the religious service at Barnett Demesne…

A recurring contradiction in the Orders’ position is in selectively citing examples of quiet country parades while demanding a single public management strategy to deal with all Order parades (north of the border) without any differentiation between their individual legacies or contexts. Simultaneously, individual Lodges and Counties seemingly retain their autonomy in deciding their own particular strategies on a variety of issues. If we take this at face value – the issue being proposed for judicial review - the opportunity to attend the platform proceedings – can be usefully placed in the context of the Orders own words during these proceedings.

I’m including two examples below by simply going back five years and then ten years to see what was reported from the ‘platform proceedings’. The first is the words of Alfred E Lee, the Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland as reported in the News Letter section on ‘Voices from the Field’ in 2002 (available via paywall here), the second is the Grand Lodge of Ireland resolution read out in 2007 and reported in the press.

In both instances, a political message was delivered from the platform which was explicitly unionist. Despite, and notwithstanding, all the claims to the religious and cultural aspects of ‘the Twelfth’, politics has been and continues to be a dominant and dominating theme, and that nexus of parades, feeder parades and flags is undeniably political. For once, the Orders and unionism need to face up to a reality of their making.

I’ll do a re-cap of what gets said this from the platforms this year in the next week. Maybe they’ll surprise me? In the meantime, see below for the Orders in their own words.

Alfred E Lee from the Belfast News Letter (13/7/2002):

“For more than 30 years there have been many occasions when we felt discouraged, especially when we saw murder after murder, bomb after bomb, and one seemingly weak Secretary of State after another, carrying out the same old policies, making the same old statements and not wanting to grasp the nettle.

“We have endured a campaign of terrorist violence, murder and destruction which no other civilised society would tolerate. We have been treated to empty promises, we have felt deceived and betrayed by political initiatives.

“The Belfast Agreement has failed to do what is supposed to have done – bring peace, stability and reconciliation. Unionism is in a state of disarray largely through the battering it has received from its own Government and the deep divisions which have arisen in the Protestant and unionist community because of tactics used by elected representatives to defend the Union.

“The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, while supporting the concept of a fully democratic devolved parliament for Northern Ireland has been consistent in its opposition to an Agreement which has resulted in the early release of convicted terrorists found guilty of the most heinous crimes.

“The Agreement also led to the total demise of the RUC – a gallant police force which provide assurance and stability for all the decent law abiding citizens of the country.”

Mr Lee added: “Because of the Agreement, the traditional symbols which confirm the Britishness of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom are being needlessly swept away by a Government whose Secretary of State in the Province seems to be arrogantly working to his own agenda.

“The Protestant unionist culture and tradition is denigrated as being meaningless and of no value in the new society which political masters in an uncaring British establishment are shaping for us.

“Those who believe in maintaining the Union with Great Britain should realise it is not in the best interests for Ulster unionists to push on agreeing more and more bad deals to try and save an agreement which has delivered so much for republicans. It would appear that there may be so- called unionists, who are more interested in personal ambition and a lust for political power rather than being guided by political principle and philosophy.

“Today, the members of the Orange Order are called upon to face a task more difficult than any of their forefathers knew. It is true our forefathers knew a lot about persecution, but nothing of the soul-destroying apathy of the present day.

“Never has there been greater need for members of the order to be true to the Christian faith and the principles of the order. In these days of new and changing philosophies the Orange Order must play a militant and effective part in upholding the ancient Christian faith and the stability of a Christian society.

“As members of an order based on holy scripture we are not anti-Roman Catholic; the order is not a negative anti-Catholic organisation but a truly Protestant witness for faith. The truly committed Orangeman embraces the great Reformation principles of civil and religious liberty and, while he may not agree with a man’s religious beliefs, he will never deny him the right of conscience.

“We are met to emphasise what is central in our way of life – namely our faith in Almighty God, and if we forget that, we have betrayed the trust of our Protestant heritage.”

And, from the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland Resolution read out from the platforms on 12th July 2007:

Orangemen, with other unionists, fully support the Union between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. We call our members to a role of civic and community leadership within these islands. The moral and civic ethos which our Institution instils is much needed at this time in a secular world where Christian values are discounted by those in authority.

Our Institution watches with interest the developing political situation in Northern Ireland and, like many others within the unionist community, shares grave reservations about the presence of those in government whom we would not see as democrats in the accepted sense of the term. The commitment of Sinn Fein/I.R.A. to proper democratic government will be constantly monitored and the opportunity presented to them by the recent election results is a test which they must not fail.

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  • anne warren

    A few of these statements jumped off the page at me.

    “The Orange Order must play a militant and effective part in upholding the ancient Christian faith and the stability of a Christian society ”
    The Orange Order’s idea of a Christian society was Protestants lording it over Catholics . Is mention of “a militant and effective part” a seditious threat to the state?

    “As members of an order based on holy scripture we are not anti-Roman Catholic; the order is not a negative anti-Catholic organisation”
    Its raison d’être is exclusion of Catholics from membership and any effective role in society and its institutions.

    “The truly committed Orangeman embraces the great Reformation principles of civil and religious liberty ”
    The Orange Order says over and over again ad nauseam that it is committed to civil and religious liberty, but it didn’t complain when the Special Powers Act (1922) was used to undermine the rights of Catholics and republicans for much of the last century. Northern Ireland’s Special Powers Act allowed the authorities to carry out mass arrests and imprison people without trial – or, in fact, to do anything it liked in the name of preventing disorder.

    Hardly a Christian standpoint and certainly worrisome if it is “ a truly Protestant witness for faith”

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “Maybe they’ll surprise me?”

    I suppose you could always read the 1995-2011 resolutions on the GOLI website:

    Each year at it’s 12th July commemorations the Order approves resolutions on faith, loyalty and state.

    FLS is in alphabetical order and, presumably, the emphasis will change, not just for each member but also from year to year. The loyalty resolution first appears in 2002 in the online list.

  • John Ó Néill

    But Nevin – do you not see the issue here for the Orange Order? In making a political statement each year from the platform it contradicts its own premise for refusing to accept limitations on the actions of it’s constituent branches.

    As stated, I had deliberately only chosen to use an Order text from five years ago and ten years ago (Alfred Lee’s was even the first one out of the bag from the 2002 News Letter). If anyone wants to peruse the Resolutions then they will see the political content each year as it is a permanent theme.

  • http://bangordub.wordpress.com/ Bangordub

    John,
    You are correct, in my opinion, in highlighting the overtly political nature of the organisation. That begs the question as to why it doesn’t stand for election or is the UUP just the party political wing? Indeed for many years I think there was a presumption that that was just the case.
    Either way, I cannot find a single instance of a Unionist politician condemning, without qualification, Orange parade participant or follower associated violence or provocation.

  • Drumlins Rock

    John,
    What is wrong with including politics? Free public expression of political views is a central element of democracy, personally I don’t think the the 12th platform is the right place for political speeches, and Co. Tyrone does not allow them at its 12ths, as a supporter of the agreement I think Bro. Lee’s words were out of order, but that really only effects those listening. Even if politics is allowed it only forms a small part of platform proccedings, the vast majority of which is Religious.

    Nevin, the resoloution used to be Loyalty Faith & State, possibly it was Tyrone again, but a few years ago it was put forwards Faith should come first, hence the current order.

  • John Ó Néill

    Nothing wrong with including politics unless you claim that what you do is purely cultural and/or religious.

  • Drumlins Rock

    John, to me the Orange has four elements,
    Faith- Protestant & Reformed
    Community- Family, neighbourhood, townland
    Culture- History, tradition, royalty, marching bands
    Politics- Loyalty, Union, and local issues

    I don’t think anyone claims it is purely one of these.

  • John Ó Néill

    DR – I’m afraid that there is doublespeak here on the part of the Orders – it either is or isn’t involved in politics and it is either a series of autonomous branches (when the whole gets branded for the actions of one lodge or County) or it is a homogeneous organisation (when it wants to challenge a restriction against one lodge or County).

    In 2010 the Belfast County Grand Master was publicly claiming that the Orders weren’t political, when they clearly are (see above). When it comes to contentious parades, the Order conveniently slips into talk of culture and religion yet politics more often than not is the dominant theme on the platform. It can’t have it both ways.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    John, AFAIK the three (or more resolutions) come down from OO HQ but up here in north Antrim five districts take it in turn to host the annual walk to the field. Two years ago it was Bushmills, last year it was Ballycastle, this year, I’ve just been told, is Cloughmills. The other two towns in the circuit are Ballymoney and Rasharkin.

    Thanks for a Tyrone view, Drumlins Rock. I suppose the loose structure of the OO has led to the evolution of different styles, according to context.

  • andnowwhat

    Well here’s a double whammy on politics and loyalty; this very year members of the OO had a wee protest in London against the proposals in relation to allowing the monarch to marry a Catholic (politics) and in a Radio 4 interview, senior OO boyo said they would have to consider their (conditional) loyalty to the crown if the changes were made.

    So, whatever the number of orange men there is, consider their opinion to be of more weight than 60 million Britons?

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    John, it seems the Belfast CGM ought to give some more thought to his utterances. The following is a bit clearer:

    “We are not a member of any political party, therefore I would say we are not political, but as an organisation we are interested in what happens in our country,” he said. “Orangemen and their families, are all part of the political scene, they all have their political views. I do believe we have a right to express the views that we are hearing from the people on the ground, from the grassroots. And people are fed up with one party sniping at the other and so forth.”

    The nature of the resolutions make a nonsense of any ‘purely cultural’ claim – unless they view politics and faith as subsets of culture.

    The opposition is mainly political so that intensifies the political nature of the reaction.

  • John Ó Néill

    Nevin, to be honest I think the Orders aren’t really clear in their own heads about this which makes the public debates all the more confusing.

  • Alias

    “The moral and civic ethos which our Institution instils is much needed at this time in a secular world where Christian values are discounted by those in authority.”

    The second part of the sentence is very close to the mark. The reality for the OO is that the British state has become much more pluralist and multicultural than it was at the start of the troubles, placing itself in a framework of international and EU rights law. A consequence of that ‘mainland’ progress towards an equality agenda combined with the British state’s more direct role in NI is that a protestant/loyalist state for a protestant/loyalist people would no longer be tolerated in the new truly multicularal UK. Loyalists need to become more British, and less protestant/loyalist, because NI has now become more British and more European.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    John, you’re quite right about that! On the other side of the coin, folks who comment sometimes view organisations through the prism of those they belong to themselves or are familiar with.

    The late Peter McLachlan used to regale us at Corrymeela with stories about cross-community gatherings he chaired when folks would lapse into the lingo of their own group and Peter would have to prompt them to return to a form of words that would be generally understood :)

  • PeterBrown

    John

    Nothing wrong with including politics unless you claim that what you do is purely cultural and/or religious

    (or in the case of the GAA a sporting organisation entitled to public money to fund clubs and competitions named after terrorists)

    The Order is a faith based organisation which upholds the reformed faith – if it feels that its ability to exercise that faith is affected by politics will legitimately become involved in politics in the same way that the 4 main churches here and CoE in England are prone to do.

    I don’t see any direct or implied attacks here or anywhere else of note on PCI ministers who were involved in brokering the loyalist ceasefires, Clonard monastery for its role in the IRA ceasefire or Methodists who oversaw decommissioniong but or is it only the Orange Order which is not allowed to mix faith and politics?

  • http://www.ulster-scots.co.uk Kilsally

    Not sure you are comparing like for like here- there are usually 3 resolutions , faith, loyalty, state and each platform has a guest speaker and a minister who preaches a sermon

  • Hopping The Border

    “Because of the Agreement, the traditional symbols which confirm the Britishness of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom are being needlessly swept away by a Government

    Why would symbols be required to “confirm the Britishness” of Northern Ireland?

    Either they accept it is British or they accept it isn’t.

    If the OO believe they require to see certain symbols to confirm their Britishness then might I suggest they have some serious confidence/identity issues.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “The Order is a faith based organisation which upholds the reformed faith”

    Peter, the symbology on the collarette and the titles of its leaders would indicate that the OO owes more to Masonry than to Christianity. It was established in 1795 following the ‘encounter’ at the Diamond near Loughgall between Peep-o-day Boys and Defenders; being only a few generations on from the horrific events in that area in the 1640s it’s not surprising that Catholics were excluded. This scenario would indicate that the exclusion was mainly political as the Athboy strategy itself in recent times was also mainly political.