The occasion of the official opening of the Orange Order’s two museums led to significant media coverage over the past week, with visits from former Irish President, Mary McAleese, and All-Ireland winning GAA footballer, Jarlath Burns, being used by the Order to effectively call for nationalists to follow in the footsteps of these two prominent northern nationalist figures and visit the museums in an effort to gain a better understanding of the Order.
I was also fortunate enough to be given a tour of the Schomberg House based Museum of Orange Heritage, and in a subsequent BBC Good Morning Ulster interview and blog on Slugger, I made the following point:
If the Orange Order is serious about changing perceptions of the organization, then it must begin by addressing and altering the reality of how it conducts itself in a divided society.
Fast Forward a few days.
An immediate opportunity presents itself for the Orange Order to prove a genuine desire exists to change perceptions of the organisation by altering the reality of how the Order and its supporters conduct themselves in the run up to the 12th of July.
Loyalists arriving from afar to lay claim to majority catholic and/or mixed areas is not something confined to the Upper Ormeau Road area.
It is indicative of a mentality that continues to be ill at ease with peace.
Census figures reveal the Upper Ormeau Road area to be some 57% Catholic and only 27% Protestant. For some appreciation of this, were republican flags to be erected through the centre of Lisburn and Antrim towns, loyalists would have no grounds to complain, given that those towns have significantly greater Catholic communities as a percentage of the overall community than the Upper Ormeau Road’s protestant community. Indeed, a close demographic match for the Upper Ormeau Road would be Holywood. Now imagine the loyalist reaction to Tricolours throughout that north Down village.
Alas, we don’t really need to imagine a loyalist reaction. In 2009, a man (Kevin McDaid) was kicked to death by a loyalist mob who objected to a number of republican flags being erected in a predominantly nationalist part of Coleraine.
The PSNI’s backtracking on the issue of confronting the sectarian antics of the flag erecting loyalists has further undermined the authority of the police. Indeed, the logical conclusion of the PSNI’s stated position now is that anyone can erect flags anywhere and the PSNI will only intervene if a rival crowd threaten or actually instigate a violent response to the initial act. Given the historical context of the sectarian killing of Kevin McDaid, that is a deeply troubling position for the PSNI to adopt.
True to form, far from seeking to lead and educate the knuckle draggers in their midst, unionist politicians continue to give political cover to loyalists engaged in these sectarian and intimidatory antics.
Christopher Stalford was in quick to beat the Drum:
“Ballynafeigh is a settled, mixed community. Now, if those words are to mean anything, it means that the unionist community in that part of the town is able to manifest their culture and their identity, as it’s their tradition, during the months of July and of August. If the flags are not of a paramilitary nature, then I don’t see how any reasonable person could object.”
And then, there’s this gem from fellow Belfast DUP councillor, Tommy Sandford.
Speaking in The Newsletter about his opposition to the flying of the Irish Tricolour outside of the Schomberg House- based Orange Museum this week, Councillor Sandford said that he believed there would have been local objections if the Tricolour was flown.
“I would probably say it might have caused a bit of upset among some residents,” he said.
“To the majority, it would have been offensive to them.”
So. Let’s be clear about how DUP logic works:
Union Flags in predominantly Catholic and mixed areas can not be objected to by reasonable people.
A solitary Tricolour alongside other National Flags at Schomberg House is unacceptable because it might cause upset and be offensive to ‘the majority’ of local residents.
None of the above will come as a surprise.
The hypocrisy of Unionist politicians is rooted in their pining for that lost supremacism.
All of which presents the Orange Order with an opportunity to actually prove the sincerity of its desire to earn the respect of its nationalist neighbours.
Imagine were the Orange Order to publicly call for loyalists to refrain from the practice of erecting flags along contentious routes, often cynically using the premise of a 12th of July Orange Order parade as the excuse for engaging in what are essentially base sectarian and intimidatory antics in a divided society? Would the Order lose anything?
Or, alternatively, would the Order begin to alter the reality of how it conducts its affairs in a manner that would begin to challenge perceptions of the Order and its members?