Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Orangemen out of order to moan about being victims

Streets of shame: protesters clash with police
A car is burnt out on the Albertbridge Road in east Belfast
A car is burnt out on the Albertbridge Road in east Belfast
Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr displays a police officer's shield which was struck by a ceremonial sword in Belfast

Hated. Stifled and trampled upon. Demonised, demeaned and discriminated against. These are the words that the Orange Order consistently uses, with a combination of aggrieved belligerence and mawkish self-pity, to describe itself and its followers.

"No matter what we play, no matter what we wear, no matter what we say, no matter how much we apologise, it won't make a blind bit of difference," moaned Orange Order grand chaplain Mervyn Gibson. There will always be some people, he said, who "don't want an Orangeman about the place".

For all the blundering crudity of the Orange logic, I don't doubt their sincerity. They really believe this stuff.

In fact, they not only believe it, they appear to derive a perverse sense of pride from feeling reviled and marginalised. It fires them up, gets them seething with righteous indignation.

As their republican enemies could tell them, there's something incredibly exhilarating about assuming the mantle of the most oppressed people ever.

When you're hating and hurting and lashing out like a stupid, goaded bull, one thing is certain: you never felt so alive.

But let's keep away from the perceptions, however strongly felt, and look at the facts. Once you take all the heat and noise and general bellowing out of it, they are abundantly clear.

The Orange Order has no justification at all for describing itself as a beleaguered, oppressed body whose rights are being trampled underfoot.

On the contrary, it is a well-established, comfortably affluent organisation which is generously supported by European Union funding. It has powerful advocates at the highest level of devolved government, as well as easy access to the media, which grants it extensive freedom to expound its views.

And, by and large, it gets to march exactly where and when it likes, with thousands of Orangemen and women participating – with barely a restriction – in hundreds of parades across Northern Ireland.

Yet, when they are not permitted to walk down one single stretch of road, the order gibbers with rage and hysteria, acting as though Protestant culture is about to imminently implode, then washes its hands of responsibility when hyped-up thugs start battering police officers with stones, bottles and ceremonial swords.

The same is true of the Order's followers. Far from experiencing unfair restrictions, they are treated with extraordinary official indulgence, permitted – particularly during the Twelfth – to behave in ways that would never be tolerated elsewhere, or in other groups of people. By-laws forbidding drinking, or littering, are quietly set aside and the threats of substantial fines forgotten, as broken beer bottles are dumped all over the street in the wake of parades.

Toxic, tyre-laden Eleventh night bonfires threaten homes, overhead power-lines, or even four-lane dual carriageways. Yet no-one says a word.

The special dispensation granted to the Order's supporters remains unspoken and the evidence is silently removed by council workmen, at enormous public expense.

If your dog fouls a deserted pathway in the middle of Belvoir Park forest, you can expect to be immediately collared by a dog warden on a bike and forced to cough up 80 quid, under threat of prosecution.

But on the Twelfth, if you down several bottles of blue WKD in the centre of town, then chuck the empties in the road, you can be quite confident of getting away with it.

So, yes, there's plenty of unfairness and injustice going on in this absurdly over-heated marching season, but it doesn't belong to the people who are loudly laying claim to victimhood.

Neither does it belong to those aggressively republican residents of Ardoyne – Garc and their ilk – who have been cheated of their opportunity to get grossly offended this year.

Those who have genuine cause for complaint include the people of the Woodvale area, who had to barricade themselves into their own homes as rioters ripped up their garden walls and used the bricks as ammunition, or stole their wheelie bins and filled them with petrol bombs.

It includes the police themselves, once more bravely holding the line as depraved yobs (of one shade or another) batter them with murderous intensity.

And it includes everyone in this country who wishes for a quiet, peaceful life, yet is forced to endure these predictable paroxysms of rage and disorder.

All these sections of the community have a right to feel oppressed. But not the Orange Order.

Belfast may be burning, but these guys are doing just fine.

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