Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Orangemen need to get their own house in Order

In the spotlight: the Orange Order

Picture the scene. An Orange parade is approaching a Catholic church, where protesters are waiting outside. The band is playing Abide With Me.

Then the music ceases and the only sound outside the church is of a muffled drumbeat from a lone drummer. Once past, the band strikes up another hymn.

There is no tension, or trouble. The protesters fold up their banner and melt away.

Some express surprise and also appreciation for the manner in which the parade has been conducted. One Sinn Fein supporter observes: "Why can't it be like this all the time?"

What I have just described is not wishful thinking on my part, or a figment of someone's imagination.

A person whom I would consider to be a highly reliable and independent witness related his recollection of what actually happened one evening last July outside St Patrick's Church in Belfast.

The rest of Northern Ireland looks upon the nightly ritual of protests in north Belfast as helplessly as it has done for so many years over the Drumcree standoff.

Listening to the protagonists constantly trying to justify their respective positions, there appears to be no answer which will satisfy everybody. As the spotlight falls on Ardoyne, it is easy to overlook the fact that some 2,500 parades emanate from the unionist community each year.

Of these, more than half are organised by the Orange Order, 200 by the Apprentice Boys of Derry, 500 by the Royal Black Institution and nearly 600 others in the form of general band parades.

All in all, they represent a unique and age-old tradition in one section of our society on this island, north and south.

In contrast, the nationalist community celebrates its traditions in different ways, with fewer than 200 annual parades, but vast support for gaelic sporting and cultural events.

If we are to live in a truly shared society, then both communities should be as free as heavenly possible to follow their respective traditions without hindrance.

The behaviour of those who parade and those who protest really lies at the heart of the Ardoyne problem. The Orangemen try to justify the disgraceful disorder of last July by pointing to the fact that republicans engaged in similar street violence the year before. No one seems prepared – on either side – to accept that two wrongs do not make a right.

When the Press were invited to Camp Twaddell last week, they were met by political and community figures, representing a wide spectrum of unionist and loyalist opinion.

The main parties are not wishing to be outdone by one another. Both are wary of the apparently growing influence of the Progressive Unionists and more shadowy loyalist figures in this dispute.

Collectively, all the unionist voices are strong on defending the right to parade, but have little, or nothing, to say on the equally important aspect of the Orange Order's responsibilities.

Rights and responsibilities go together. At one time, or other, both Orange and Green camps in north Belfast have not seen the link. In my opinion, I cannot see why a parade which has always taken place along this arterial road should not be allowed to continue as before – other than for one reason: the behaviour of bands, marchers and supporters.

The leadership of the Orange Order, particularly in Belfast, must get a grip on the offensive attitude of some members and bands, otherwise Ardoyne will not be the last disputed parade.

If the Order applied as much pressure and discipline on those who act disrespectfully, or attack police officers, as, for example, it does towards unionist politicians who dare to attend a funeral service in a Catholic church, its credibility would be greatly enhanced.

The Order needs to review its code of conduct and ensure its members and bands adhere strictly to it. If it were to do so, there might be little need for a Parades Commission, or justification for many of the complaints levelled against it from republicans and nationalists.

Stepping up the protests to the level of civil disobedience, as an Orange spokesman suggested on Saturday, is no answer. The Orange Order show know by now from the heightening of tension and trouble over Drumcree that such tactics lead down a road to nowhere. Respectful behaviour is key. The message relayed by that muffled drum past a Catholic place of worship last July is a small price to pay for the freedom to enjoy thousands of other parades each year.

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