The Orange needs to go back to basics and look at what it stands for in 2020 and beyond…

There is something worryingly out of sync with the Loyal Orange Intuition when over three weeks after the “New Decade, New Approach” deal is agreed upon by politicians which brought about the immediate restoration of Stormont, senior delegates of the Institution meet to discuss the deal. The outworking of such a discussion was always going to be predictable, one might even say boring, however, the actions of the Orange have reinforced their status as being almost irrelevant and certainly not fit for purpose and it is this that I wanted to discuss today.

This week in Tyrone 120 senior delegates of the Orange Institution had an “urgent” meeting to in effect reject the deal agreed upon by local politicians (many of whom were Orangemen). It seems bizarre that since the initial proposals drafted in February of 2018 there has been no “urgent” meetings called by the Orange to discuss the lack of government or indeed to form a credible policy that they could present to politicians. In fact, before Christmas of 2019 almost two years after the Orange rejected the initial proposals, they were still unable to present a viable alternative. It was inevitable that political Unionism was going to have to bypass the institution in order to get an agreement passed. It’s almost incredulous that it has taken the Orange so long after Stormont has got up and going to even meet and respond to the deal, their intervention now is a clear example of closing the stable doors when the horse bolted three weeks ago. It took the Orange so long to have this meeting that the response whilst predictable has been viewed as irrelevant by most onlookers, this illustrates that the Orange is in huge difficulty.

If we take a step further back, grassroots members have still not been consulted on this official response by the Orange’s leadership. For my own lodge, the deal or anything about the Irish language was not even on the agenda for January’s meeting and rolling up to the district it was also absent from all itineraries there. This is a scene replicated across Fermanagh and indeed the Grand Lodge of Ireland, yet the Grand secretary Mervyn Gibson has advised that there is much anger amongst the membership with regards to this deal. This is inherently inaccurate as no internal vote or discussion has taken place that could warrant such a statement. It is even more concerning that most rank and file members were unaware of the meeting this week in Tyrone of senior delegates to discuss the deal, a huge problem is developing in which the leadership seems unconcerned and uninterested in having a conversation with its members. When Sinn Fein refused to release the results of their internal party poll on the Northern leadership election, many were critical, however, the Orange is open to being accused of worse when all opportunities to have a debate/poll on important issues are stifled.

This week’s intervention by the Orange was most confusing as they had no suggestions of what they wanted; did they really think their statement would result in Stormont folding?  Was the long-term goal just to have Stormont’s restoration kicked down the road indefinitely?  The lack of any positive vision or of constructive input has made Orangeism seem like an almost alien concept to mainstream Northern Ireland, health education, finance, justice etc should be Orangeism’s concerns and not opposing an Irish language commissioner, the pettiness and ludicrousness of this are nauseating.

Some initial thoughts on where the Orange goes from here:

Mission Statement

The Orange needs to go back to basics and look at what it stands for in 2020 and beyond. I’m sure that yet again at the Fermanagh Twelfth we will be told by the County Grand Master how the Orange is a non-political organisation but this is ludicrous when we intervene in politics as we did this week, in fact, the Orange played an unnecessary role in delaying the restoration of Stormont since 2018. Furthermore, whilst not every Orangeman or woman is a Unionist most are and one of the fundamental planks of the organisation within Northern Ireland is its Unionist credentials. By claiming we are not a political organisation would in effect mean we would have to become neutral on the Union, is that really a position that the Orange wants to adopt? The supreme idiocy of the Orange Institution’s actions in delaying a deal and then opposing the one that was formed actually undermined Northern Ireland’s positions within the UK even more, if Northern Ireland doesn’t work then its place within the Union is unsustainable.

Further irony is that as a Reformed Christian organisation we continually release very unchristian statements, opposing any form of outreach on the Irish language was certainly damaging towards the Orange.

Many within the Orange family accept that the current Irish government (and previous governments) have gone out of their way to protect Orangeism within the Republic and Leo Varadkar made a very welcome visit to the Orange Heritage museum in East Belfast. It therefore doesn’t chime very well when official Orange statements blast Simon Coveney for playing a role in the restoration of power sharing.  Again, whilst being unchristian, forgetful of what the Irish government has been doing for Orangeism, it also seems to ignore the reality that the Republic of Ireland is a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement (remember that agreement championed by a leading Orangeman at the time?)

Leadership

There is a need for urgent and immediate change within the Orange and this needs to start at the leadership level. Unfortunately, I don’t believe Mervyn Gibson who is in effect the most senior Orangeman holding the role of Grand Secretary is leading the Orange in a progressive direction. His association with an illegal bonfire in July 2019 would not have been accepted by the Orange of the past and his recent statements regarding the Irish language have been uncharitable and are against the ethos of the Orange. Drew Nelson, Mr. Gibson’s predecessor was always going to be a difficult act to follow, Drew was a modernising and strong influence within the Orange, unfortunately, his work has not continued under the current regime and the Institution is declining as a result. There is also a need to look at the senior roles within the Orange and possibly redefine them, the Grand Master (Edward Stevenson) has been in the role since 2011 but despite being the most senior person within the Institution the role has become more symbolic and almost invisible rather than practical and new blood is needed here alongside a more definitive criteria. The Chief Executive Officer of the Orange is the most elusive role within the organisation and clearly is not working out as intended. These three roles need to be made full-time roles, they need to be salaried and they need to have a clear list of objectives with each candidate voted in by the 34000 members across Ireland for two years at a time.

Communication

The Orange needs to be more agile in how it deals with events. Communicating weeks after an event has happened with no internal discussion with its members is not acceptable in this era. The message needs to be better presented, more reflective of membership’s attitudes and more progressive, one might even say it needs to be more Christian.

Retrospective Analysis

The Orange Institution has made one error after another down throughout the years, the time has long since passed when we need to evaluate the mistakes of the past, recognise them and try to improve from them. As an organisation, we seem intent on repeating the same errors of the past in the hope that there will be a better outcome the next time – insanity!

Overall this is another damaging week for the Loyal Orange Institution, its ineffective, irrelevant and completely unsatisfactory handling of complex, fluid situations have left it sidelined. As it stands the Orange is not fit for purpose and is beginning to turn many of its members off lest we even begin to talk about non-members.  The key problems is a lack of identity in 2020, the misunderstanding that Irish in any form dilutes Orangeisms needs to be addressed. Orangeism is being diluted and ultimately destroyed by its own membership and our failure to adapt to a changing and more inclusive world.