Earlier this week three senior Church of Ireland clerics — the Primate Dr Richard Clarke, and Bishops Harold Miller and Alan Abernethy — issued a statement expressing their “dismay” at the serious disorder in Belfast following the Twelfth stand-off at Ardoyne.
They underlined that the violence was contrary to Christian teaching, and condemned the attacks on the police.
They further urged “meaningful engagement” between all concerned and they offered to help with mediation.
It was a carefully written statement but the Anglican clerics did not mention the large elephant in the room or, more aptly, lingering in the area where the police and rioters were in confrontation.
That elephant is the Orange Order itself which forgets nothing and learns nothing. During the past four decades and more since I began writing about politics and community affairs for this newspaper, the Orange Order has blundered from crisis to crisis, with no sign of the leadership needed to prevent it from marching up one cul-de-sac after another.
The Order thinks that all the media is ‘agin' them.
This is not true. All this week a wide range of media columnists and other commentators have bent over backwards to stress that the vast majority of Orange parades pass off peacefully, and it is only a few that cause the problems. That is the problem. The antics in the Ardoyne this week beggar belief, as does the Orangemen’s request to march along the same area again.
The situation is so bad that the Orange Order is making Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly sound like Nelson Mandela. Kelly was quite right to describe as “crazy” the demand to walk along the same stretch of road which led to the start of the rioting last weekend.
The vast majority of people living outside the Orange bubble will agree with him. The trouble is, however, that the Orange leadership has its head so deeply in the sand that it cannot see how fast the rest of the world is passing it by.
However, instead of responding to fair criticism from outside the Order, its leaders are behaving without rhyme or reason. They continue to believe that they are right, but their tired cry of “No Surrender” is a sad sign of endless self-justification and blind defiance.
Many of the Orangemen and women are decent enough human beings who are caught in a time warp, and there is little point in demonising them or criticising them further, because most of them are not listening.
The only way forward is to encourage them to begin to see sense.
Of course they have grievances. Of course some of the republican/nationalist residents are as intransigent as the King Billy ‘Bully Boys', but there is no way forward without talking to each other.
The Orangemen already have two classic case studies to help them.
They ought to see that the “No Surrender” strategy at Drumcree has brought the Orangemen nowhere, and now at last there are hopes for a dialogue there.
The Belfast Orangemen should also look to Londonderry, as I suggested last week.
At one time Derry was a byword for trouble in the marching season but since then both sides have brokered a lasting peace.
The Belfast Orangemen should also look to their hero King William.
He was a brave soldier, a good politician and a pragmatist who was willing to work in an alliance with the Pope to gain his ends.
Sadly if King William had had to depend on the backing of many — though not all — of today’s Orange leadership, he would probably have lost the Battle of the Boyne.