Following the news that The Loyal Orange Order have received a grant of almost £900,000 from the European Union to help address the legacy of the Troubles and encourage cross-community interaction, people across the island of Ireland can only stand back in expectation of what is to follow.
Unsurprisingly, the decision has been met with support by many members of the Unionist camp, not least in the halls of Stormont. DUP MEP Diane Dodds triumphantly proclaimed that, “this money will enable a major amount of work to be undertaken to help build capacity within the Protestant community in border areas who suffered so much during the course of Troubles.”
While her heartfelt passions are no doubt sincere, they are highly and frustratingly predictable. Indeed, what observers are most eager to witness is in what form the Loyal Orange Order will enact the stipulated criteria of active cross-community relations. As it stands, the official rhetoric is tellingly void of such considerations.
Chairman of the Orange Community Network, Drew Nelson, kept his cards close to his chest when he reflected that, “there is an imbalance of weak community infrastructure, low confidence and low levels of participation within the Protestant community, particularly in interface and Border areas.”
The closest words to outreach are those of William McKeown, Grand Treasurer of the Lodge, who commented that the grant, “will equip the Protestant community with the ability to engage with the wider community and to encourage it to re-engage as equal partners as Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland move forward.”
Superficially full of promise, the words of Mr McKeown are decidedly cautious and carefully chosen, and while the praise and secular grumblings have been far reaching and triumphant, so far no one has been overly forthcoming with information as to how the funds will be used.
The most transparent revelation comes from the supportive overtures of Independent Strangford MLA, David McNarry: “this is a deserved recognition of the good work already being done… moreover, this is a clear indication of European financial support guaranteed to see that the work continues by the institution.”
In its simplest terms, the money will provided to the Orange Order to invest in projects it already runs, but will now be able to do so on a greater scale. And this will be achieved through the Stepping Towards Reconciliation in Positive Engagement (STRIPE) project to be based in Lurgan.
STRIPE will be led Dr. Jonathan Mattison of the Lower Iveagh District LOL, who will be joined by a team of fellow members of the Lodge. Which begs the question of who, if anyone, from the EU will monitor this activity? Critics fear that without tangible external arbitration, almost one million pounds will vanish into a series of progressive, but socially-exclusive projects. Inexplicably, Brussels has so far remained quiet on this matter.
To this end, the words of MEP Dodds are as revealing as they are emotive. Quoted on the DUP’s website, Mrs. Dodds further commented upon the Protestant community’s “legacy of that suffering and marginalisation”, while referring to the curiously-phrased, “Orange family”.
Honest and truthful sentiments they may be, but all Mrs. Dodd’s words serve to do is to reinforce an extended body of comment that has few, if any, references to other communities in Northern Ireland.
Taken as a whole, the secular rhetoric of the Unionist camp is particularly ill-considered when placed alongside the central role that the Orange Order will assume in the officially sanctioned – and highly controversial – commemoration of the Ulster Covenant later this year.
The political situation in Northern Ireland is, yet again, vicarious. Violent activity is making a resurgence within the six counties, and the tricolour debate over Stormont rages on. With this EU grant, The Loyal Orange Order has an opportunity to build some bridges and make proactive steps to redressing its damaged legacy through some mature and considered decision making. But if things continue to proceed as they are, this will become yet another poorly-executed shambles in an extended timeline of political irresponsibility.