In the last few days I’ve been re-reading Brian Kennaway’s book The Orange Order: A Tradition Betrayed. It’s pretty obvious that, esoterically speaking at least, one of the things that the order is struggling with, and probably has struggled with for much longer than the lasat contentious 10/15 years, is modernity itself. This is probably less obvious in rural areas where religion of all types has retained a surer grip on the affections of its people than in Belfast. Roy Garland points there have been some improvements in recent years which have in turn led to significant internal tensions:
Attempts to reform the Orange Institution are under way. This is not easy given that many Orangemen seem fearful and hidebound by tradition.
Twelfth speeches illustrate the difficulty. When grand master Robert Saulters welcomed Orange attempts to reach beyond itself he stirred reactionary fears. Rev Stephen Dickinson launched a vicious attack on his fellow Orangemen saying some were seeking changes to allow attendance at weddings and funerals in Catholic churches. He also condemned Orange leaders for meeting Archbishop Sean Brady.
In doing so Dickinson highlights the fact that significant changes are afoot. Not that the prohibition was ever uniformly enforced. As one Catholic priest pointed out, the ban on countenancing Popish worship is not unlike the way Christian Churches once scandalously denied each others legitimacy.
Garland argues that the Orange need to get into dialogue, and quickly, with people they previously viewed as enemies and accept that there are places they may now never walk again. But he notes, Ardoyne, where the recent nationalist rioting took place, is not one of them:
Orangemen walking past Ardoyne shops should offend no one. The parade does not pass through an exclusively nationalist area and Ardoyne residents can shelter behind the shops.
Protestants opposite have in the past been attacked by hordes of nationalist youths emerging from Ardoyne. They feel intimidated and fear that, under cover of parade disputes, attempts are being made to drive them out.
The riotous youths and their godfathers dont want accommodation. A persecuting mindset, reminiscent of Nazi attitudes towards Jews, informs them.
But Kennaway writing in the Irish Times argues that the Orange Institution must recognise some of the darkness in its own midst, and stop treating their neighbours as they were blind, or stupid, or both; if it is to stand the least chance of turn its own failing fortunes around:
In reality it is also the paramilitary influence and connections evident in some areas which prevents people with high standards from joining.
People in local communities know whos who. When they see paramilitary members, and in some cases leaders, walking with an Orange Lodge they are far from impressed. In some cases the paramilitary connection is not revealed until a death notice appears in the press, from both their lodge and the particular paramilitary organisation.
There comes a critical point in every organisation when issues have to be faced as to whether or not the organisation can be sustained. With rising costs having to be met from an ever-declining and aging membership, the Orange Institution is coming closer to that critical point by the day.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty