Part and parcel of a multicultural outlook should be the inclusion of the Orange Institution…

Claire Mitchell’s (13th July 2018) personal account and views shared with regard to the 12th July is an honest and typical view point held by many living or having come from Northern Ireland.

All violence should be condemned, namely that which occurred on the 11th night this year. The burning of cars and hijacking of buses are scenes from a period which we all thought was left behind, however many still associate these images with the July festivities.

The scenes in Londonderry witnessed over the course of the last two weeks have somewhat taken a back seat, whereby a small Protestant enclave has been attacked repeatedly on a nightly basis, something which has not occurred for some time.

Growing up in South Belfast my parents took my brothers and I to the Annual Boyne Demonstration as it came up Balmoral Avenue and onto the Malone Road.

This stopped when Drumcree was at its high point, which in itself quickly went from a dignified protest to a violent one when the paramilitaries brought the guns out and fired them at the Security Forces. This was enough to put off anyone and sadly tainted the name of the Orange Institution.

My father came from a rural Orange tradition, but never joined. There was no connection to the Institution on my mother’s side (as far as I know).

My mother grew up not far from where I did, and she remembers that the first, and possibly only person on her street, to display the Union Flag was a Catholic, who was a former Merchant Navy man. He is sadly no longer with us.

I was cool towards the Orange, holding many stereotypical views. It was not until later on at University that took an interest and without being pushed or coerced, I asked a good friend of mine how I could join the Order.

Eleven years on I have never looked back nor regretted my decision.

One thing I learned early on, is that you cannot taint an entire organisation by the actions of a few: something which Claire makes reference to in her piece.

In the late 1980s/90s, unfortunately, the Orange Institution became a subject of serious strategic “attention” for the Provisional Republican Movement.

At a private Sinn Fein conference in Co Meath in 1995, in a speech that had been secretly recorded, Gerry Adams said:

“Ask any activist in the North, did Drumcree happen by accident, and he will tell you ‘no’. Three years of work on the Ormeau Road, Portadown, and other parts of Fermanagh and Newry, Armagh and Bellaghy, and up in Derry. Three years of work went into creating that situation and fair play to those who put the work in. They are the type of scene changes we need to focus on and develop and exploit.”

A reference to organised Republican opposition to Orange parades which began three years previously on the Ormeau Road. Away from cameras and public controversy, the Institution was drawing attention in more sinister ways.

In the 25 years prior to the Twelfth of July 1992, 39 Orange halls were burnt. Tellingly, in the 10 years after the Twelfth of July 1992, 192 Orange halls were burnt.

These figures speak for themselves and show how the republican movement focused on, developed and exploited the three years of work which Gerry Adams had referred to.

In fact, over the weekend Crumlin Orange Hall was attacked; something which I do not believe has happened for some time.

I have come to learn that you cannot link the events of the 11th and 12th July. They are two separate events, which have been merged into one by the media and subsequently within the public imagination.

First and foremost, a common error is that people directly associate bonfires with the Orange Order. Historically, yes, bonfires were used to guide King William’s ship up the Belfast Lough, but they are not organised by the Institution.

Bonfires are a symbol of celebration, or commemoration, within the Unionist/Loyalist community.

However, bonfires today differ significantly from thirty plus years ago, when local residents from a few streets gathered up wood on the 11th day and lit a bonfire on the street to mark the occasion.

It was a simple community event, comparable to a street party. Bonfires were never the towering monsters you see today either.

Over the last week I have read on social media people calling for banning bonfires, and even the Twelfth.

Have people not learned from our recent history what happens when you ban something, which ultimately has to be enforced by the authorities?

This would solve nothing other than generating unwanted and unnecessary violence and disorder (as the removal of bonfire materials on the 11th July demonstrate).

Over the last number of years the Orange in Belfast and across the Province have been engaged in excellent work in reducing alcohol consumption on the streets at parades and to make the day more family friendly.

The only thing that the violence on the 11th night this year achieved was to taint the Twelfth day itself. Nonetheless, I did not see any impact on the numbers of people watching the parade.

What I do understand is that there were less people in attendance at bonfires on the 11th night however.

I am pleased that Claire did take her son to a Twelfth demonstration and that the events of the ‘night before’ did not put her off.

Stereotyping is not new, in fact it is commonplace. More so today with the growth in multiculturalism and an unfortunate rise in racism.

We are told to never judge a book by its cover.

The Orange Institution should therefore not be judged through the eyes of others. If you want to come to your own conclusions, step outside of your comfort zone, go to a parade and see for yourself.

Or, even better, visit one of the three Museums of Orange Heritage in Loughgall, Limavady or Belfast.

Education, learning and understanding are all part and parcel of multiculturalism, and tackling stereotyping. This should not exclude the Orange Institution.