A long way from Dan Winter’s cottage – An insiders view of the current state of the Orange Order…

Choyaa is a Fermanagh Orangeman

Sam McBride has penned the highly acclaimed “Burned” which is a serious and important piece of investigative journalism that focuses on the Renewal Heating Incentive (RHI) scandal overseen by a number of prominent DUP members including the current leader Arlene Forster. Sam McBride was told by some within the DUP following the release of the book that it contained many errors, when Sam asked for specific examples he was met with silence. When I heard this little anecdote, it made me chuckle as my series of stories relating to the Loyal Orders prompted a similar response from some Orange leaders (particularly in Fermanagh) who were also unable to give any examples as to where my analysis was erroneous. However, one point made was that I came up with very few solutions and that is the aim of this segment, improving the Orange for the 21st century, I should note that I am not in Sam McBride’s league!

I’ve always wanted to visit Dan Winter’s cottage where the Orange Institution was founded after the Battle of the Diamond and a few years ago an opportunity arose. A lodge in Fermanagh was going and they extended an invitation to other lodges to effectively bolter the numbers and I was only too happy to oblige. The trip was planned, we would view the house, have a meeting within the lodge room but the main highlight of the event would be sampling some of Hilda’s home cooking particularly the apple pie. Hilda lives in the house and was married to one of Dan Winter’s descendants. When we arrived at the cottage, we were greeted by a sign on the door advising that if we wanted a viewing, we had to call the mobile number listed. This seemed very strange as we had arranged to meet at a designated time but nevertheless, we called the number and 15 minutes later a middle-aged man greeted us and took us on an informal guide of the buildings.

The guide informs us that he is a descendant of Dan Winters and the cottage is independent of the Grand Orange Lodge and as he succinctly put it “it’s a torture passed down through the generations that I’ve now been lumbered with”. The buildings are quite interesting which include a public house, kitchen, bedroom and a shop with lots of artifacts inside. Some of us query a few odd items within the cottage that look out of place and the owner concedes that they are just things that he has placed in the cottage that were part of projects that never materialised. The tour is more a step back in time to a history of agriculture in the 60’s when I presumed the guide was born than a serious history of Orangeism. In fact, the owner/guide is an Orangeman but seems to be a reluctant member, his knowledge of the institution is sketchy and he knows nothing about the Black (also formed by Dan Winter).

The owner touches on some aspects on the famous battle by advising us that the house is riddled with lead balls from the rifle muskets and in the 1960s he and his family lived and grew up in the cottage. Some tourists walking past casually enter and saunter around the cottage, the owner then does the same informal tour with them. It’s clear from being within the cottage that there is nowhere to have a lodge meeting and any thoughts of apple pie are of the question and where is Hilda? After around an hour we leave, no request for monetary donations are made or given. On or way home in the bus we are left a little confused about this visit, it was reasonably interesting but very unstructured, poorly assembled and at times and felt quite amateurish, certainly not befitting the home of Orangeism.

We were also very concerned as to how unsecure the cottage itself is especially as it is such an important part of Orange history. Having been on the bus for around 10 minutes a call comes through to the event organiser, it’s Hilda on the other end of the phone asking where we were and what time we would get to the cottage at? Hilda is advised that we have just left the cottage, however she has been at home all day and has seen nobody. Hilda insists we call back and gives precise instructions on where to go. After some deliberating on the bus we decide not to offend the lady and opt to return, as we return to the cottage it appears to be completely locked up, the driver is a little frustrated and insists that he is turning to go home. We drive along the road for 100 yards to take an alternative route home when we spot a cottage called “Dan Winter’s House”, it’s very similar to the one we visited previously and an elderly lady seems to be waving to us from the door, confused we get out and investigate. The lady at the door is inevitably Hilda, we are welcomed into the very well-maintained cottage, there is an open fire burning and the aroma of fresh cooking on the griddle is delightful. The house itself as an historical entity is much less impressive than the first one, it actually only has some photographs on the walls along with a lodge room kitted out with collarettes and sashes. Hilda then proceeds to tell us a story, it is the same one that we were told at the first cottage; however, this story is adamant that the battle took place at this cottage and this is where Dan Winters was born.

As there is not much to see in this house, we cut our visit very short, thank Hilda for her hospitality and leave (we didn’t get any supper). Some research shines a light on the strange events of that day. The two cottages are owned by an aunt and her nephew who have had a very public falling out, both are adamant that the cottage they own is where Dan Winters was born and where the battle of the Diamond happened. For some reason cottage two which is much less interesting is the official cottage that Orange lodges visit (unless they get lost like we did) and it’s clear from some photographs on the wall that this cottage has also received some significant funding. The reason why I have told this little story is because it is a microcosm of many of the problems within the Orange, feuding between members, disorganisation, unrealised potential, misinformation and the feeling of unprofessionalism. In reality the Loyal Orders could buy and develop these sites, grow them as a major tourist attraction and also as an important base for Orangeism and a live setting to tell our history from but as is all too often the case within the Orange, it is a wasted opportunity.

The obituary of the Loyal Orange Intuition has been written many times but somehow it always seems to come through, however in 2019 it is at one of its lowest ebbs in terms of numbers, influence and relevance. Some of that is certainly to do with changing attitudes, particularly as we move into a more secular world, however many of the Orange’s afflictions are indeed self-inflicted, but it’s not too late to address them.

Leadership – From my own analysis one of the most significant problems within the Loyal Orange Institution is leadership, bad leadership, ineffective leadership and no leadership. Northern Ireland falls under the Grand Lodge of Ireland, this encompasses around 1200 lodges and is overseen by the Grand Master of Ireland who is currently Edward Stevenson. This should be a significant full-time role with the Grand Master overseeing the entire running of the organisation. In reality it is done on a part time basis with the Grand Master being a full-time farmer with most of his evenings consumed going to lodge events. It also should be noted that he is quite elderly and as an organisation we expect a lot from him. This has resulted in very little time being spent managing the organisation from a practical and strategic perspective resulting in many of the Orange’s problems.

The current Grand Master seems to be a thoroughly decent individual but is certainly not a leader, he performs very poorly in public arenas as well as in front of the camera and unfortunately during his time at the helm he has outlined no strategic vision and has simply overseen decline. In order for this role to be properly performed it needs to be developed into a full-time position that is accompanied with a salary. Furthermore, the person chosen for the role needs to have leadership skills, the ability to communicate their message effectively and some objectives as to how they would lead the Orange, this would be in conjunction with a set of clear objectives from the Orange’s mission statement that the role could be measured against. In addition to this I would like to see the County Grand Masters roles become full time and paid as they suffer from the same problems as the Grand Master in terms of the wrong people holding the roles, doing very little and in most cases overseeing decline which is damaging the image of the Orange. I also think a review of some of the paid roles that currently exist within the Orange is required, two roles that concern me are those of the Chief Executive (Iain Carlisle) which is a paid role and Grand Secretary (Mervyn Gibson). Both roles are very vague in operational scope and unfortunately neither individual has made any impact that can be seen within the Orange.

As a matter of fact, the Chief Executive oversees the administrative side of the organisation but almost seems to outstrip the Grand Master in terms of power but is in effect invisible. The Grand Secretary role seems to overlap with that of the Chief Executive and that in effect has made it redundant. Looking at Mr. Gibson’s achievement(s) all I can find was that he supported the bonfire in East Belfast leading up to 2019 Twelfth and his attendance was not within an Orange capacity. Prior to Mr. Gibson the role was ran very effectively by the late Drew Nelson who was driving through serious initiatives in terms of internal modernising, outreach initiatives as well as media communications, all of which have sadly reversed or halted since his passing. One thing that has been setup following Brother Nelson’s passing is the “Drew Nelson Legacy Project” which has been ongoing since 2016, it is very right that such an initiative has been taken up but for most members of the Orange its aims are unclear despite tens of thousands of pounds having been raised. One aim is to setup a student centre which is an admirable ambition, however the goals and objectives of the centre are currently unknown. It would have been much more apt to continue Brother Nelson’s work within the Orange in terms of modernising it and making it fit for the new and ever evolving world.

So an overhaul of the leadership roles within the organisation, making several roles full-time salary based and the leadership is to be measured against the aims and vision of the organisation.

Some items that this leadership team need to grapple with are as follows:

Remember our Roots and Motto – We are a Christian organisation and that should always be remembered first and foremost and even as I outline how the Orange needs to evolve, we cannot forget the central plank of why the organisation exists and that is to promote and practice the Reformed Christian way of life. The Loyal Orange Institution’s motto gets forgotten by members all too often and it’s important to ensure that we know it and live by it and the motto is simply – Civil and religious liberties for all, special privileges for none!

Internal Rules – There are a number of rules that are no longer appropriate within the 21st century and are at odds with the very ethos of the Orange, to compound this fact very few members adhere to them whilst most of us are frankly embarrassed by them. One rule that needs reviewed and removed is the “ban” on Orange members attending a Catholic mass, there is no demand within the institution to have this rule and in fact many have requested its removal but the leadership have remained absolutely silent on the subject. As mentioned in a previous article, my own lodge has given informal dispensation for all members to attend funeral and wedding masses, however this rule needs updated to show we are truly a modern and outreaching institution.

Political Arm – Leadership needs to be cautious when making statements on politics as they rarely articulate mainstream membership’s opinion and too often are only the view of those at the very top. One item where I feel the Orange blundered on in recent times was their antagonism to a language act being brought in. Initially there was strong opposition to the Irish language from the leadership, however this was rowed back on when it was discovered many members and some who are quite senior within the Orange are fluent in Irish. It’s good to frequently remind ourselves of our underlying ethos, “civil and religious liberties for ALL, special privileges for none”. We would be much better off as an Intuition leading the debate from a Protestant and indeed Unionist perspective, helping to form what a language act would look like rather than sitting at the side protesting about something that too many don’t fully understand.

There was an internal audit done within the Fermanagh County Grand Lodge some years ago, within this audit a few members voiced opposition to the Irish language, however if truth be told judging by their spelling and grammar it’s clear education should have been a more pressing concern. The Orange would be better off tackling the educational crisis within its own community particularly with the English language rather than objecting to other languages (yes, we all are guilty of spelling and grammatical errors and I’m sure some will be pointed out to me from this article ). I am thankful that the Orange stayed clear of the Brexit debate but this was almost by accident rather than design as too few within the Orange fully understood what it meant and members were split on their stance. This should be food for thought going forward, the Orange has an important role to play within the political arena, however it’s intervention must be thoughtful, wise and generous. Members hold a swathe of differing views and support various parties; it is therefore very unwise to get siloed into a particular political mindset.

Curb the parades – Many within the Orange family now feel there are simply too many parades, this is more ironic due to the fact the number of parades is increasing as our membership decreases. Parading is a very important aspect of our culture and I have always defended the right to public procession in a positive and peaceful manner. However, as an organisation we are not being good citizens by parading most weekend in the year, often to the annoyance of our friends and neighbours who are impeded by traffic delays due to our processions. The situation is unsustainable and we do run the risk of restrictions being imposed that will be out of our control, lets show leadership on this subject and reduce the number of parades we have each year.

Parade Protocols – One thing that I have been very critical of is the declining standards visible at Orange parades. Whether this be intoxicated personnel participating within them, Orangemen and women looking worse for wear and worse again others displaying inappropriate emblems whilst on parade. I was recently heavily critical of the band that wore the “Soldier F” insignia during the Apprentice Boys of Derry parade in August 2019, this was always going to result in a reaction and it almost resulted with the entire parade being cancelled (still not fully resolved). The lack of leadership from our Unionist representatives was depressingly predictable, many cited that no rules had been broken and whilst technically true it’s also clear that a fragile situation was damaged by the Loyal Orders and not the residents. It’s interesting to note that the band Clyde Valley from Larne went to the trouble of getting this insignia, however their general uniform was patchy and their musical abilities were very poor. On the issue of paratrooper insignia, the Ministry of Defence has made the job of the Loyal Orders much easier by advising that it should not be displayed outside of official military events, perhaps we should pay attention?

Mission Statement – The leadership team need to develop a clear and concise mission statement for the Orange in the 21st Century. It is very unclear to many as to what we are about. The Orange is actually a Christian central organisation with political, cultural and historical leanings. For a number of years now Grand Masters in Fermanagh both past and present have pontificated from the platform about how the Orange is a non-political organisation before going on to talk about the need to maintain the link with Great Britain from an arena adorned with Union flags and again this happened in 2019.

Education, Education, Education – This is a significant issue among the Protestant community and within the Orange family in particular. Many of our members have a very poor level of education, their knowledge of the Orange is shockingly low and the historical context of the intuition is lost on most. In The poor level of education has hindered the organisation and the wider Protestant community, there is an inability to present a coherent and positive message and our ability to articulate our way of life effectively whilst creating a vision for the future is non-existent. The Orange actually do have an excellent education officer and having attended several of his workshops I can attest to how effective he really is. Furthermore, his work involves going to schools (both Protestant and Catholic) to give presentations, something that has been well received with St. Mary’s University College a success story on this front. However, the issue here is that members of the Orange are not being nurtured to assist David Scott and the education section is a one-man operation. My recommendations here are twofold, develop an “Education Committee” within the Orange comprising a team of people and rollout a course for all members to complete, this course should be on all things Orange with real history interwoven. The second aspect would involve rolling out educational courses for members such as English, History, Politics, Theology and IT etc. Concentrating on important elements like this rather than the unhealthy negative opposition to the Irish language or the organising of yet more parades would be much more productive.

You can’t eat a flag – John Hume is someone I greatly admire and this quote reflects my views very succinctly. I won’t deny that the Union flag is important to me and it’s important that we as an organisation respect it and discourage its saturation on every lamppost to the annoyance of residents and the disrespect of the flag especially when it is flown upside down or left up until it rots. Back to John Hume’s point, we need to work on getting members into jobs who are long term unemployed, we need to look after our senior and more vulnerable members much better as well a people who have suffered bereavements. At the moment there is a widow’s fund within Fermanagh which many find a little insulting as it’s ineffective and widows generally only receive a voucher at Christmas to the value of £10. We need to look after our members and their families much better than this. Let’s concentrate on the bigger issues!

Call it out more – If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us, that is a line we would hear most Sundays in church; however, it is something we have been slow to understand within the Orange. Perhaps we have such a high opinion of the Orange that it is to our shock when some don’t conform to the organisation’s high expectations, other times we think we’re protecting the organisation and yet other times we just know we’re being untruthful. Let’s look at some recent examples where we could have managed things much better, (1) the Scottish band’s antics at an Orange event at city hall, (2) Wanton violence and drunken loutishness at the Belfast Twelfth and (3) Inaction when potential wrongdoing has been raised. As an organisation we frequently fail to condemn acts of wrongdoing, we don’t conduct internal investigations when matters arise and we are too slow to react when a controversy develops and if we react at all it’s usually very ineffectual. We need to be more agile within our organisation in both weeding out undesirable members but also in preventing controversies from arising. It is unacceptable if a lodge member has been convicted of a serious criminal offence in January but nothing can be done until the lodge meets again which maybe June, suspension and expulsion proceedings cannot begin until then and even after this they have to go to district and county levels before a final decision is made. This can sometimes take over one year to action, it is damaging our reputation and frankly unacceptable.

Gender Fluid – Not as bold as the subheading would suggest, however it’s long past the time when the male and female lodges came under the same umbrella. There is no reason to have separate intuitions for male and female members and merging these organisations makes sense. I am still happy to have male and female lodges but females need to be treated as equal to their male counterparts and this includes the introduction of suitable regalia, positions within the hierarchy of the institution, an update in the terminology used for example “mistress” is no longer a suitable title to hold and the same initiation practices as that of the male members. By not treating the females as equal members we are effectively cutting off half of the potential talent pool which makes absolutely no sense. I genuinely believe there is significant scope to grow the female lodges with the right action and nurturing.

Media Outreach – The Orange’s media profile is terrible, we have few members who can articulate our views to the media in an effective and polished manner and this is something that needs to be tackled. In order to do this, we need to create a team that can effectively communicate with the media as and when required e.g. at a controversial parade. In addition to this our UTV and BBC Twelfth specials are quite poor and undeveloped, a media team could help to enhance these programmes. The BBC have certainly worked hard in evolving their Twelfth programme and they do give the Orange some control over what is broadcast, however we never know what to say or do so footage of parades is shown whilst Orange members give weather updates and talk about how the Twelfth is a family day out. A media team could improve this output and perhaps if our message is better there may be the possibility of getting some more airtime for the Twelfth specials? The media team could also look at our online and social media footprint which is truly atrocious, often outdated, frequently tacky and very unprofessional. A random audit in 2015 declared the role of “Director of Services” held by the wonderful Dr. David Hume to be obsolete. This role I felt was important and resulted in the Orange museum, with the loss of Dr. Hume we lost one our best media performers and a significantly talented individual – this is something that needs to be looked at again.

Review the rituals – Are they putting people off, could they be modernised somewhat? I think a review would be helpful to ensure we are being true to our principles.

It’s about the Battle, not the Bottle – The campaign within the Orange in relation to “It’s about the battle, not the bottle” is extremely positive and a significant recognition that there is a problem with alcohol at Loyal Order events. This campaign needs to be built on, more enforcement of the rule amongst the Loyal Order’s membership along with that of the accompanying bands. Anyone who is intoxicated should not be allowed to parade and this rule needs to be enforced, it’s a small problem within Fermanagh but an extremely significant problem elsewhere in Northern Ireland, particularly in Belfast. The Orange also need to work more with the police to ensure that it is better managed amongst the spectators, there were a few unacceptable scenes of drunken loutishness at this year’s Twelfth in Belfast that was frankly not dealt with. It should be noted that this zero tolerance for the “blue bag brigade” does not mean that I am against people enjoying a beverage at a Loyal Order event, however it should always be done in moderation and within the appropriate venue. I have always been a proponent of having social events on in the evening after the Twelfth demonstration, with an emphasis on this part of the day being a more appropriate time to enjoy a drink or two.

Eleventh Night – Technically this has very little to do with the Orange although there are some festivities put on by lodges, many of which involve lighting a beacon. It must be noted that bonfires are a significant issue and whilst we don’t control them we could give more guidance on them to encourage better standards. I would like the Orange to encourage communities not to burn religious emblems and flags on them and to always ensure they are built in a safe area. I don’t think Mervyn Gibson should have got so involved in last year’s bonfire as it was built on an illegal site and how was the tarmac on which the bonfire was built on after the bonfire was cleared away? We must always recognise there are no wins for the Unionist community by lighting a bonfire. I am pro bonfire but this must come with responsibly towards the wider community as well as promoting our culture in a positive manner.

Grassroot Level Change

Not everything can be done from the top, much of the vital work that is needed must come from county, district and local lodge level­. I will now look at some aspects where the grassroots of the Orange can help to improve the overall health of the organisation.

Actively Recruit – In Fermanagh a Recruitment Committee was founded within the Orange some years ago, ironically however, the individual who helped form the committee left the Orange. The Committee I am told still exists but it seems to have been relegated into a talking shop amongst a small select number of members within the organisation. This is indicative of many of our problems within Fermanagh, we don’t actively recruit, we don’t know how to market our organisation and we cannot even sell the Orange to our friends and families. Every year the county sends a directive to each of the 89 lodges within Fermanagh to grow their lodge by two members. This message is always greeted with bemusement as there is no accompanying information, no directive and no plans from the county as to what they’ll be doing to aid recruitment. Some ideas I have on how recruitment can be addressed are as follows:

– Reform the Recruitment Committee and give it some genuine power, this Committee should link in with all of the districts within the county. The committee should also include female members and any initiatives should be rolled out within the female lodges as well as the male lodges.

– Crunch the figures, if lodges are growing year on year find out why as this could be replicated across the county.

– Twin lodges so that they can share ideas and work together on recruitment drives, twinning a lodge which is growing year on year (if one exists) with one that may have overseen significant decline (these definitely do exist) could reap rewards.

– Establish a recruitment day twice each year covering the entire county, this could be used to inform people about the organisation and showcase what the Orange in Fermanagh has to offer. It could also help potential new members to find a lodge within their area and put them in touch with the relevant contacts.

– Setup a recruitment stall at both Fermanagh Twelfths, this should be operated by members of the “Recruitment Committee”, it’s bewildering that this is not already being done.

– Ensure members are using the Twelfth as an opportunity to market the Orange and to seek new members.

Retention is as good as Recruitment – The number of people who leave the Orange each year in Fermanagh is staggering and rather bizarrely we have never attempt to gauge a common trend as to why people leave in order to circumvent it. Some simple ideas that I have picked up through my time within the Orange that have generally been dismissed which I think should be revisited and they are as follows:

– Inactive lodges won’t attract or keep members, if a lodge meets once or twice each year then this is completely inadequate – I feel lodges should have to meet at least four times per year and be encouraged to meet every month.

– Review lodges that are currently returning diminishing numbers, I can flag a number of lodges in areas such as Ballinamallard, Castle Archdale, Lisnaskea, Enniskillen, Irvinestown, Maguiresbridge, Lisbellaw and Tamlaght that are all continually returning reduced numbers and we need to find out what these lodges are doing that perhaps are contributing towards their demise. If we can identify problems then we can enact remedial action.

– Survey ex member where practical, find out why they left and build up a list of trends that can be acted on.

Manage the brain drain – The Orange suffers quite severely from members leaving Northern Ireland for work or education and in most circumstances, they become lapsed members. We could manage this process much better to keep them within the Orange ranks. For example, they could transfer to a lodge close to their new location. I know of quite a few Orangemen who have moved to England not realising that there was a lodge close to them. In other cases, if members from different lodges are living in a location that currently has no Orange connection, then there is no reason why a new lodge cannot be formed there. The members initial lodge(s) could help oversee the overarching internal regulations such as warrants etc, this parent lodge would also play a crucial role in nurturing the new lodge. It’s also important for the original parent lodge to maintain links with members who migrate elsewhere, they could still remain full or affiliated members of that lodge and lodge meetings could be rearranged for times when they are back home for holidays etc. There is no reason to have a static time of the first Monday of every month for meetings, flexibility is the key.

Improve the Twelfth – The Twelfth needs to evolve and it’s up to each area that hosts it to make sure it is fit for the 21st century. I agree that the religious service is an important part of the day but I feel that it being tagged on at the midway point of the day does not work. There are a few issues with this, firstly with this happening at the field most people on parade will have left the field to return to their families or the nearest bar, many of those who remain in the field don’t listen to the platform proceedings which devalues them. Secondly within the town or village where the Twelfth is happening there is an anti-climactic feeling that could be filled with cultural music or reenactments. I would suggest the following itinerary, the religious service at the beginning with full attendance expected, the main parade, lunch, pageantry/dance/music and then the return parade.

The return parade is always a bit of a mess, this should stick to a particular route for all within the procession and the National anthem only needs to be played once during the day, preferably after the platform proceedings rather than the innumerable renditions of it that currently happen at sometimes inappropriate moments.

From a purely practical perspective it makes sense to ensure there are adequate toileting facilities and catering stalls for all in attendance and as discussed previously there should be a fully staffed stall or stalls advertising the Orange and attempting to recruit new members.

Community Outreach – I am always very wary about these schemes as they can seem false and patronising, however if they are undertaken in a positive and genuine manner then they can only be a good thing. In Fermanagh we used to invite a contingency of guests to the Twelfth who would generally find it an alien concept and the responses were always very good. I would like this rolled out again and it would be nice to invite some political representatives along such as members of the SDLP, Alliance, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, I have not included Sinn Fein as I honestly do not feel the time is right at present but perhaps in the future this could be possible? As well as politicians we could look at members of history groups, sport’s clubs (the Fermanagh GAA team), Irish Language groups, the Catholic church and possibly even a contingency from Slugger? I feel that this should all be self-funded by the Orange and we should not be needing grants for such a small gesture.

As well as this it’s important that away from the Twelfth lodges are active within their own communities through community outreach work and volunteering for local causes as well as doing charity work. When people see that we are just normal citizens within society it will help take away some of the negative connotations people can have of the Orange especially if we’re only ever seen on parade.

Donate Quietly – I always feel uncomfortable when charitable donations are broadcast on social media or within the local newspapers. It’s understandable why the Orange does this, it shows that we’re much more than a parading organisation and we are genuinely seeking to create a better society. However, by broadcasting our donations we are being unbiblical and appearing a little false, I think it would be more appropriate to make less of a song and dance about charitable donations.

Become more Self Sufficient – In a changing world we need to ensure that we are not a drain on the public purse. Our image is so poor across Northern Ireland and further afield that getting grants or tax breaks will become much more difficult in the future. We need to get more into the mindset that if we need something then we must to be able to finance it ourselves. All members pay their dues and on top of that significant funds are raised within the Orange each year for things such as hall maintenance and charitable donations. However, the Orange needs to ensure our money is being better managed. I can remember a failed initiative in Fermanagh when thousands of wristbands were ordered at a significant expense to the county, however when these were sold to members there was little interest and this hurt lodge coffers across the county, this is another example of poor decision making within the Orange. A review of where lodge dues go and what they are being used for is essential, lodge fees average around £100 per member, however there is little evidence of such funds being used productively.

On top of this we need to be conscious of the rubbish that is left behind after our parades and it would be prudent to start putting plans in place to arrange the litter sweeps ourselves as there will come a point when the council will begin to question this more, we need to preempt this. I am already hearing complaints from the public with regards to the cost of the cleanup operations after Twelfth events.

Civil and Religious Liberties for all, Special Privileges for None! – I keep going back to this but it’s so important, this is the founding principle of the Orange and we must remind ourselves of it at all times. Like most organisations, the Loyal Orders in Fermanagh and further afield have a more diverse membership than many originally imagine. There are Irish speakers, LGBTQ members, Liberals, GAA fans, apolitical members and just about every other demographic imaginable, our only one diversification from most other groups is that we are all Reformed Christians. We need to be much more open and welcoming to different cultures and perspectives both inside and outside of the organisation and we must live out our motto even if it involves having to challenge mainstream Unionism.

Have a Long-Term Vision – The current policy within Fermanagh for the Orange is the unwritten rule of “hold onto the membership we have”, this defensive mechanism is understandable but it’s a zero sum game and will only result in continued decline. Each lodge and county within Ireland needs to have an effective long term vision for their lodge(s) with this all feeding into the Grand Lodge of Ireland’s overall vision. Along with this vision we must have a plan on how to get there and a way to measure our successes and failures as we embark on this journey.

Internal Discipline – This is one of the weakest aspects of the Orange, we are slow to act when a member’s standard drops below what is reasonably acceptable. I once inquired as to why a member within a lodge had not been expelled for committing a criminal offence. I was told that it was a small lodge in which the member in question always attends meetings and due to this it was a case of nobody daring to bring up the issue. I understand this natural reaction as most people want to avoid confrontation but these disciplinary matters need to acted upon and the district and county need to ensure it’s happening. Bad apples within the Orange destroy its reputation for the 99.99% of members who are decent, law abiding citizens. I am certainly one for second and third chances and in certain circumstances if true and genuine remorse is shown then I am open to rehabilitation for the members as I also feel that the organisation should be a force for positive change within individuals. The underlying point is that we need to be more effective in dealing with the undesirable members within our ranks, failure to do so will only continue to harm the organisation and its image. The Orange also needs to remember that none of us are perfect and we need to be much less judgmental of those outside of the Loyal Orders. First remove the beam out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Local Leadership – All leaders should have goals and aspirations of where they want their lodge, district and county to be in 1, 3, 5 and 10 years’ time, this acts as an important lens for the organisation to aim towards whilst offering clear objectives to measure the leadership’s achievements against. Unfortunately, such goals or visions don’t exist within the current leadership team in Fermanagh. One initial problem is obviously the declining membership which is all too apparent on parade, it was frustrating this year to hear the new County Grand Master Paul Stevenson publicly proclaim that our membership is flourishing with particular reference to Fermanagh. This is clearly untrue and embarrassing; the lodge returns are down right across the county and even a casual observer at the Twelfth can see our low numbers on parade. My recommendation here is more honesty from the intuition particularly from the top, whilst it is understandable as to why we would want to hide out diminishing numbers, being loose with the facts makes us seems foolish and untrustworthy. We need strong leadership within the county to address the problems of declining numbers, Orange halls in states of disrepair, reputational damage and a lack of outward engagement. The County Grand Master is a difficult role, we need someone to do this on a full-time basis who has the required skillset and they need to be paid a salary. With regret the current County Grand Master is not suited to the role and I can only see further decline during his tenure.

Dealing with Controversy – The allegations against members of the Orange in Fermanagh recently in relation to historical sexual abuse were extremely disturbing and repulsed the Orange family across the county. I won’t get too involved in the specifics of the case as it is right that the police conduct a thorough investigation, however I believe there are things that we in the Orange could be doing too. News about the allegations broke the day before within the “secret” Facebook page for Fermanagh Orange, the County Grand Secretary posted a message to forewarn members that allegations would be in the newspapers the following day and that is almost the last thing anyone within Fermanagh Orange has done about the scandal. I feel we should conduct a full internal investigation into some of the specific allegations and implement immediate remedial action and ensure all findings are passed to the police. There can be no question of any wrongdoing ever being covered up, we must have an open, robust and transparent way of dealing with complaints within the organisation. As voluntary body we need to ensure DBS checks are being carried out for anyone working with youths and everyone within leadership roles, we could even go further and make it compulsory for all members to have this check completed. ­­­

When this allegation broke via the media, it was all too evident that we did not have the leadership team within the county to deal with it, the new County Grand Master has been silent on the matter and driven forward no new initiatives, this is NOT leadership.

We also need to be better at taking seriously the genuine and useful feedback from non-members, at the moment it’s always dismissed as non-Loyal Order members could not possibly have anything useful to say. There is no way to receive such feedback unless a member of the public mentions something informally to a member of the Orange. I have taken a lot of feedback in the past about poor standards on parade which has invariably been dismissed or ignored and I feel this is extremely churlish. I suspect some on Slugger may have a recommendation or two within the comment’s section below that the Orange would do well to take seriously.

Resist Mergers and Mergers acting as Pacts – This is a hot topic at the moment but also a topic that is being discussed internally at lodges across Fermanagh, especially those with only a handful of members. The idea is to informally merge with another lodge in the locality to bolster numbers. This is plausible fallback position but it’s one laced with danger too. For example, there are 89 lodges officially within Fermanagh and from this only about 65 banners come out for the Twelfth with the remaining lodges being too small to take their banner out so they instead fall in behind another lodge. However, some of the discussions at the moment are between lodges who do bring their banners out for example Killadeas and Castle Archdale. In the past these were reasonably strong lodges, however now they have dwindled into single digit membership on parade and in fact Castle Archdale had a 70-year-old man carrying their banner at this year’s Twelfth. This was very unfair to the member because despite the perception, carrying the banner can be a difficult and awkward lift. One valid point that was brought to my attention was that with such low numbers, monthly meeting may only have two members in attendance and as such it’s impossible for the meeting to go ahead, in instances such as this it makes sense that as a temporary measure for three months is implemented to allow the lodges of Killadeas and Castle Archdale have joint meetings.

The reason why I am against mergers is because one lodge inevitably disappears from the area so too does its history, furthermore like Unionist pacts not everyone will be happy with the one lodge that is available and they will instead opt to lapse their membership so the situation becomes worse. My suggestion would be to analyse those lodges to find out if there is an underlying problem as to why membership is so low? If there is this can be acted on, furthermore the lodges in question can attempt a recruitment drive and work with the district and county on this and as an emergency backstop measure, larger lodges could loan some members to the struggling lodge and have them as affiliate members, with fresh blood within the lodge rooms this could breed success. There is no reason why lodges such as Killadeas and Castle Archdale can’t work together to increase their numbers but mergers are a bad idea. I also think that when a lodge is in trouble numerically, it makes sense to initiate the Recruitment team so that they can work with the lodge for a resolution.

Active Lodges are more successful – This one is common sense, however if a lodge meets once or twice each year then it is difficult to attract new members and maintain existing members. However, if the lodge is active then this will accumulate awareness and help maintain interest. There are lots of things lodges can do from education and culture nights, social events to trips to Dan Winter’s cottage (try to visit the right one)

We also need to look at members who only pay their dues but never come to meetings or the Twelfth and we also need to look at the Twelfth of July only Orangemen and women (super Orangemen and women for one day of the year but absent the rest of the year). Is this an acceptable level of commitment and do such members actually hurt the lodge they are a member of? The reason why it is accepted is to bolster numbers and the reason why it is detrimental is because it encourages other members to do the same so we end up with an organisation which is made up mainly of inactive members. We in the Orange need to make a decision as to what level of commitment is expected from members?

Use the data effectively – As an organisation we are terrible at utilising the data in our remit. For example, a countywide audit was carried out by the Orange asking a select number of members their views on a variety of topics, this could have been an excellent source to articulate opinions from but guess what? The results were published but never studied or acted upon, however leadership have commended themselves for carrying out the audit. Furthermore innumerable feedback is made at lodge and district meetings that is never looked at, this is criminal.

Improve Relationships – There are a number of stakeholders connected to the Orange in Fermanagh with whom relationships can be absent or at times frosty. Thankfully relationships within the local community are generally amicable and due this our parades are usually non contentious; however, it is important that this platform is built on. The relationships with bands and local churches can be much more cautious and this is a significant issue that needs addressing. Whist there are a small number of clergy people within the Orange in Fermanagh, many more are not connected to it and indeed have a very dim view on the Orange. It’s important that as an organisation which is Christian central that we are reaching out to the local churches to understand their concerns and to indeed address them. One thing I do hear is that Orangemen who are members of a church will appear at the church parade but are absent from church the rest of the year, this is accurate assertion in some but not all as most Orangemen and women within Fermanagh attend church regularly and indeed are very heavily involved with their church.

On the subject of bands, the relationship isn’t so much frosty as generally nonexistent. It would be better to reach out to bandmembers more and to invite them along to our events etc. to show that they are very much apart of the Orange family. Currently some see us as people they only see on the Twelfth and this is not the foundation for a good relationship, if we can build on our relationships with the bands this can lead to a good crossover of membership, there is currently a decent crossover of bandmembers who are also in the lodge but many more who could be, we need to work on this. Bands also express disappointment with lodge member’s appearance on the Twelfth and vice versa so mutual action is needed here. We also need to ensure our bands are supported with a large number going off the road in recent times within Fermanagh so perhaps a Fermanagh band and lodge forum is something to look at?

Manage our Premises better – I spoke to a lady from Ballinamallard who mentioned to me that the local accordion band hall looked quite “unsightly”, so she emailed the band and asked if they could address this issue. She showed me their response which was effectively a one liner saying that the hall had nothing to do with them (except that they meet in it at least once each week) and was owned by the local Orange lodge, the message was complete with a smiley. I have drove past the Orange hall from time to time and indeed it is scratchy looking although a flag adorns it from time to time. However, the other hall within the village looks immaculate whilst a third hall outside of the village at Magheracross has been closed since the 80s, it is very rundown and the lodge that owns it refuses to take responsibility although they do fly a flag from it at certain junctures throughout the year. So, one could say that in terms of halls, Ballinamallard have the good, the bad and the ugly. Looking at the lodge numbers for the Ballinamallard district it doesn’t surprise me to find out that they are diminishing year on year, the lodges there do not advertise themselves very well, especially when the local community complain about the buildings and they don’t act upon these complaints. Ballinamallard is not the only area that has trouble with rundown halls or indeed missing halls, it is endemic across the county. For example, Castle Archdale had planned to rebuild their hall some years ago and the old hall was knocked down, it seems that no further progress has been made on this development and it now looks like it may never happen so the lodge has been left without a hall. Is it any wonder that the accompanying lodge is failing?

Further complications surround the Orange hall in Derrygonnelly which homes several lodges, it is an historic building but in need of significant development and lodges seem to have been working on it for the last 20 years to no avail. There have been unending collections for it and they even applied for a culture grant. In order to apply for this grant, they had to develop a business plan which can be tricky as many of the Orange halls across the county are only used once or twice each month and as such would not be eligible for the funding. Rather bizarrely, the Derrygonnelly lodges who fall under Churchill district, hired an outside consultancy firm and paid them a significant sum of money to draft their business plan. The plan and application was subsequently declined by the grant awarding body who cited errors and omissions and to compound the district’s humiliation they asked the consultancy firm for a refund that didn’t materialise. It seems odd that this district did not have capable enough members within their ranks to develop their own business plan and failing this they could have reached out to the county for help. It certainly doesn’t motivate the Orange family across the county to support such projects if funds raised are wasted so dramatically. There are further issues with such grants as there are complexities when accepting them that sometimes result in Orange Halls having to be re-categorised as community halls, Garrison district came asunder as a result of this technicality some years ago.

The upkeep of Orange halls is essential within the county, an active and vibrant building breeds success. Halls need to be managed by an overarching body with the lodge in question having strong input rather than lodges being left to their own devices which is a system that is failing.

Having worked on Orange hall projects and upgrades in the past I am under no illusion to its difficulty, it’s a thankless and difficult task as halls require significant funding to maintain. However, there is a need for a better business-like approach to these halls to ensure their survival as grants from which the Orange have greatly benefited from are not guaranteed to remain indefinitely. We need to ensure that halls are being used to their full potential, some examples include band practices, cultural nights, social functions, credit unions and for church groups such as the Scouts.

Communication – Communication within the Loyal Orders is haphazard at best, we cannot communicate an effective message and this is true even from the leadership to its own members, I have been at endless lodge meeting where paper communications have arrived much too late, sometimes by several months. We also have a website that has not been updated for at least three years, this is very elementary but yet when it is mentioned the response is that the site administrator has lost the password. Furthermore, we have a “secret” Facebook page, which has a small population, the page is quite ineffective with the norm being pictures of the Orange from bygone days being posted. New members have to be invited to join but few ever are and the page is generally quite stagnant. The reason for having it as a secret page is because it was continually attacked by bots, however there is little point to having it in its present format if it is not improving communication, encouraging debate or helping to improve the Orange. In fact, I chuckled recently when the County Grand Secretary via this secret group dismissed my posts on Slugger as inaccurate but was unable to point to anything inaccurate within them, on this topic I decided it was better to be an observer so I refrained from posting. I have wasted many late nights at lodge, district and county meetings voicing many of the concerns I have covered on Slugger and almost all suggestions were dismissed. That’s how I know that such suggestions are never effectively recorded because if they were the Grand Secretary would know who I am rather than second guessing.

The Orange needs to better communicate its message and a team needs to be put in place to ensure this is happening, they can manage the website content, Facebook page, communications with the media and communications to each of the 89 lodges. We are in the communication age and there are so many mediums to communicate effectively from so there is no excuse for the Orange to be failing on this issue.

I also think that all members of the organisation should have more input into the direction the Orange is going and with this a vote for implementing some of the change that is needed and all members must have a vote. It is not reflective to have a small number of people making decisions (often bad ones) that are impacting the overall organisation. At the beginning of each lodge meeting we have a vote on the minutes from the previous meeting to indicate if they are accurate or not, if we can have a vote at this level then we can have a vote on the bigger issues such as who the County Grand Master should be? My first vote recommendation would be on attending wedding and funeral masses and I predict there will be a landslide result in favour of it.

In conclusion, it may seem strange to outsiders for me to be talking about the Orange at the time of year as the Twelfth has long since passed and this is very true, but the raison d’etre for the intuition should be much more than this one day of the year. We could and should at this time of the year cast our memories back over the previous 12 months to look at the pluses and minuses and work on improving things for the next 12 months and beyond. Northern Ireland has such a rich culture in terms of Gaelic, Irish language, Ulster Scots, sports and music to name but a few and we are much better off in society for having these things. A declining Loyal Order scene won’t displease many, but I still feel that if it changes and is true to its underlying motto then we can also survive this difficult period and be looked upon within Northern Ireland as a positive religious and cultural entity.

I want to thank the Slugger team and the fantastic members of the forum for there generous, courteous and interesting feedback.