The Loyal Orange Institution may not be on parade this year, but there is still an important role for us to play in society at large…

As April arrives to borrow a phrase that’s popular now, the Loyal Orange Institution (LOI) would be ramping up its efforts in preparation for the Twelfth. This year however, the 2020 Twelfth will not go ahead. As things stand and if we are lucky the UK and ROI will hopefully be emerging from the epidemic in July with the lockdown being slowly released, it would be entirely irresponsible to have 17 large scale Twelfth demonstrations across Northern Ireland and an additional 1 in the Republic of Ireland not to mention 100k people descending on Scarva for the 13th (due to be held of the 14th this year). Of course, I will miss the event enormously as will others, it’s such an important time for people like me and the Orange family as a whole, however the protection of human lives is of paramount importance and there will be few to none within the Orange family who will protest against the Twelfth being cancelled.

Whilst the LOI may not be on parade this year, there is still an important role for us to play in society at large. I recently shared a post on Twitter of Goldspring LOL 1037 who had prepared some food parcels for elderly Brethren within their lodge. This is an essential central role for the LOI at present as most of our members are quite elderly with a significant demographic single with no children, therefore the lodge for many members is one of their only touchpoints with society.  Each lodge within the LOI rolls up into a district and then the district rolls up into the county. Many small lodges with only a handful of members are likely to be made up exclusively of elderly members and I know there are certainly a number of such lodges in Fermanagh and within some of the ROI counties, it is therefore essential that districts and if necessary counties are ensuring all older and vulnerable members of the organisation are being looked after. It’s not something we in the LOI have been very good at in the past (maintaining communication with members), but at this critical point in time this is an essential task to get right.

From sharing the post on Twitter a number of people got in touch with me to say that this is all very good but it also comes across very insular – the LOI is only looking after its own. In response to this, being within the Orange is being part of fraternity which encourages members to look out for each other, it makes sense that as an organisation with such a large demographic within the vulnerable category that we should look after them. Furthermore, in the past this has not always happened unfortunately, members have taken ill and been forgotten about whilst others have passed away with their death not even recognised with little to no support offered to their spouses or children. This can happen for a variety of reasons:

–          The lodge lodge/district is badly managed.

–          Inactive lodges that perhaps only meet once or twice a year leading to a breakdown in communication.

–          The Lodge might comprise of a small and or elderly demographic that does not have the financial clout to support spouses/children of deceased members.

To contrast the above there are some very active lodges who provide great care for their members and families at times of hardship. Unfortunately, active lodges across Northern Ireland are not the norm and are certainly the exception in Fermanagh, therefore there is a greater responsibility on the organisation as a whole during these challenging times to ensure all of its vulnerable members are being looked after.

A second key question that was sent to me was – “can a people not connected to the LOI avail of help?” The answer is an unequivocal YES. Being a member of the Orange is about trying to make a positive impact on society and there have been numerous examples of this in recent times for example:

–          Markethill Women’s lodge 105 have been giving out food parcels to elderly people within the area.

–          Dunseverick LOL 528 in Bushmills donated PPE and hand sanitizer to Marie Curie.

–          Fivemiletown District organised donations from local businesses etc for PPE equipment which was delivered by the district to the Northern Ireland blood transfusion service.

–          On the wider Orange family scene, Shankill Old boys donated £1100 of their band uniform funding towards the NHS.

–          Bready LOL 334 and the Apprentice Boys of Derry club arranged and distributed food parcels for the local community.

There are countless other examples of this happening across NI and beyond such as bonfire funding being re-directed towards the NHS and many members of the Orange acting in an individual capacity to ensure neighbours are being cared for. This is the type of behavior that is encouraged within the LOI and it’s an important part of being a member. I don’t say this to boast about the Institution but to let the wider public know that if they’re in need of help the LOI can help where possible and the public should not be afraid to reach out to members of the organisation or even by sending an email to the headquarters.  If the LOI can’t help they will at least be able to point people in the right direction.

There are innumerable members of the LOI across all of Ireland and beyond involved in the frontline battle against Covid-19, everyone occupation from Doctors to ambulance drivers, cleaners to shop workers and all are playing a key role in the ongoing fight. One very visible example of this is the Health Minister Robin Swan, whilst I have grave concerns about the direction the Minster is going and his ability, I cannot question his bravery and indeed genuineness.

On the flip side the Gaelic Athletics Association (GAA) has not been found wanting either and is providing important leadership during these times, namely:

–          Cancelling all matches and training.

–          Encouraging the social distancing measures outlined by the government.

–          GAA members within the frontline of the health service some of whom I know personally across Fermanagh.

–          GAA sportswear maker O’Neills is now producing hospital scrubs.

On top of this there are rafts of community groups across Northern Ireland all playing their part in the fight against Covid-19. I have always said that Northern Ireland is a much richer society due to groups such as the LOI and their bands, the GAA, the Irish language groups and the raft of other organisations that make up our collective identity. We can easily call out bad behavior from the various groups but as an Orangeman such behavior is not reflective of the vast majority of the membership, the same is true of these other groups. We should always call out bad behaviour but we should also recognise the unique brilliance that we also have at our doorsteps.

This Covid-19 nightmare will pass, we’ll get to the other side and all of us has a role to play in the present to get us there. That includes adhering to social distancing, hand-washing, supporting frontline services, looking out for our friends, family and neighbours. Loneliness will be crippling for many at this time, so where we have the ability we should phone or even send a message to that someone whom we know may have small network of friends. If you’re having mental health troubles, reach out to your friends, family, the Samaritans – even if you just want to talk. I’m easily accessible on Twitter if anyone wants to drop me a DM – we can discuss the importance of having a good dress code on parade. We all have our part to play and let’s hope at the other side we will appreciate living within strong communities with good values all the more for having been through this. The Loyal Orange Institution might not be on parade this year but we like all of society will be marching to a different tune and it will be a march to victory.

Stay safe everyone.

Photo by bach hanzo is licensed under CC0