Belfast Telegraph

Twelfth 2015: Belfast violence leaves the Orange Order badly wounded

By Liam Clarke

Ballybay, Co Monaghan, was a place where the Orange tradition was well-accepted in the dark days of the 1920s and 1930s. I learnt that when I brought my father, a Presbyterian minister and one-time Orangeman, to meet his boyhood friend, Peadar Murnane, two years ago.

Both men were in their 90s - Peadar died last year - and my father's recent memory is vague, at best. It was a tonic to see how well he recalled his childhood, bringing up names and faces as if it were yesterday while talking to his old friend.

They fondly remembered Orangemen, my grandfather among them, marching to and from the train station to attend the Belfast parade. It was all jokes, banter and beer until the year the brethren got pelted by locals on the way home. "Why?" I asked. The two old men raised their eyes: "There was trouble in Belfast."

Peadar's parents were remarkable people. His father drove a red bus in Belfast until the family was forced out by loyalists in the 1920s. Protestants were also forced out south of the border; that happened to my maternal grandmother in Co Roscommon, but not in Ballybay.

There, the Murnanes and many others were good friends of the Protestant minority. Peadar promoted the memory of my grandfather, "Willie Clarke the Ballybay piper", who led an Orange band. Willie was also a leader in the revival of Irish uilleann piping. There was a retrospective of his work and music in Monaghan County Museum, where his importance as a teacher was clear. Peadar later got funding for a plaque to him outside his former jeweller's shop, now a credit union.

Many country Orangemen will recognise how good local accommodations can be soured, as they once were in Ballybay, by trouble in Belfast. This year, the disgraceful behaviour of loyalists on the Crumlin Road drives poison into the whole political system and the Orange Order in Belfast must take some responsibility.

They withdrew stewarding before the attacks on the police. They encouraged the Twaddell camp, regardless of cost. They pumped the whole issue up as if it was the end of the world and then blamed the outcome on others.

Peter Robinson (below), the DUP leader, spoke with better authority: "This evening's violence and attacks in north Belfast on PSNI officers as they go about their duty trying to keep the peace is wrong and cannot be justified regardless of the frustrations or the cause." He added: "My thoughts and prayers are with all those who have been injured while serving the public, as well as the young girl who has been injured in the vehicle collision."

Those sentiments need to be acted on by his party's representatives in north Belfast. They are the only unionists elected to Stormont, or Westminster, in the constituency and are all Orangemen. They need to do more than give voice to communal grievance. They need to calm fears, certainly to avoid stoking them up, and promote dialogue.

It may be satisfying, and even attract votes, to blame everything on the Parades Commission, Theresa Villiers and "the other side", but it is futile. It can only lead to defeat and isolation.

Each year of conflict makes the situation more intractable, losing the Order friends as its membership is in decline.

The institution has undeniably made efforts to reach out. Unfortunately, events in north Belfast, with a leading Orangeman charged with attempted murder, overshadows all that.

Parade or no parade, they cannot be allowed to recur. They should heed the words of Peter Robinson and of Billy Hutchinson, the PUP leader, who called for a concerted collective effort to sort this out.

Once the Order calls people out in protest, it can't dodge responsibility for what follows. If it tries to walk away, then a requirement to post a financial bond, as happens in Scotland, should be considered. That would incentivise better behaviour.

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