Why the old Orange Order has to change
An open letter to Edward Stevenson, Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland
WE haven't met, but I knew your predecessors Robert Saulters, the Rev Martin Smyth and John Bryan. They faced significant challenges and so do you.
The Orange Order is declining both in numbers and in influence. At one stage, it just about ran Northern Ireland; all senior unionist politicians had to be members, but those days are gone.
Just like a person getting on in years, the order has to learn to do things differently.
We all know old fools who go on about what they did years ago and refuse to accept the reality of change. Thankfully, many others grow wiser with age and learn lessons from their experiences.
As the Queen put it in Dublin: "With the benefit of historical hindsight, we can all see things which we would wish had been done differently, or not done at all."
Recently, you wrote to the Parades Commission - a wise move which you should build on. You asked that bands in east Belfast be allowed to play hymn tunes passing St Matthew's Catholic church and this was agreed at your request.
Instead, a band played The Sash, claiming it was used in the 23rd Psalm. That made you look bad and the order untrustworthy.
Last year, offensive sectarian lyrics were chanted to the tune of What a Friend We Have in Jesus as a march passed Ardoyne shops.
These were corner boys' tricks; an attempt to cause offence and break the spirit of the adjudication. You should condemn them and ensure that, in future, the order can be taken at its word.
This year, many parades went off well. I liked the band dressed in First World War uniforms; it is possible that these pageants could actually attract tourists in the future if you handle things right.
However, that won't happen as long as The Twelfth has a violent backdrop. The marching season must be peaceful. This isn't a game in which to score points; it is our future that is at stake.
This year, most of the trouble was caused by nationalists, probably orchestrated by a handful of people who want to plunge us into chaos, bring down Stormont and weaken the link with Britain.
You should not be playing into their hands if you are serious about upholding the Union.
Refusing to meet Sinn Fein - the second-largest party in the province - and showing disdain for residents' groups who don't like the marches achieves nothing.
The way forward is to try to gain acceptance for the few remaining contentious marches which provide an opportunity for the men of violence to foment unrest and attack the police.
If dialogue doesn't work, you must ask if the march is worth the trouble. As a Christian, you will be more aware than I am of the advice offered by Christ in Mark's Gospel: "Whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them."
It is a suitable marching analogy - and it has some dignity.