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KKK art typical of republicanism's total contempt for all things Orange

By Nelson McCausland

Published 12/11/2015

Joe McWilliams
Joe McWilliams

This year, the annual exhibition by the Royal Ulster Academy has attracted a fair amount of media coverage and comment. That is because one of the exhibits - a painting by the late Joe McWilliams, a former president of the RUA - incorporates figures of Orangemen wearing white hoods like those of the Ku Klux Klan.

RUA president Denise Ferran tried to play down the controversy and said: "Artworks can be read in many ways". She also described references to the KKK as "an obscure interpretation of a tiny detail in a very large painting of a church facade and a pipe (sic) band".

Denise Ferran refers to "an obscure interpretation", but is that really true? The artist died last month and, so, cannot speak for himself, but there is a substantial body of evidence that he had intended to depict the Orangemen as wearing KKK hoods.

He had already included similar hooded Orangemen in paintings about Drumcree - a point made by the journalist Ivan Little, who had accompanied McWilliams to Drumcree.

The Irish News cartoonist, Ian Knox, a long-standing friend of McWilliams, commented: "What a shame Joe couldn't hang around long enough to enjoy the effect his great painting had on his chosen target. I can only look on with envy. It's bizarre that the Order should rise in such a predictably brain-dead manner to the bait."

Knox's use of the words "enjoy", "chosen target" and "bait" confirm that the depiction of Klan hoods was intended to arouse a reaction from Orangemen.

Of course, Joe McWilliams had already received from the RUA a prize for the painting - the Irish News Prize for a work depicting the theme of Ireland today.

This comparison of the Orange Order with the Ku Klux Klan is something that surfaces from time to time. Back in October 2000, it was suggested that the Orange Order might have a place on a new Civic Forum, alongside many other organisations.

However, this was too much for Dr Dara O'Hagan, of Sinn Fein, who described the Order as "racist" and said the proposal was akin to inviting the Ku Klux Klan to make a positive contribution to the United States.

Dr O'Hagan was then an Assembly member for Upper Bann and is now the special adviser to Sinn Fein Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin. She is also a daughter of the veteran republican JB O'Hagan, who joined the IRA in 1940, early in the Second World War and at a time when the IRA was collaborating with the Nazis.

Moreover, in his book Northern Ireland and the Divided World, Professor John McGarry, a political scientist, said that those Irish republicans who opposed Orange parades "frequently refer to the Orange Order as akin to the Ku Klux Klan".

Earlier this week, the writer Ruth Dudley Edwards confirmed this and said, "During anti-parade protests of the 1990s - which the IRA army council deliberately organised to foment community violence - republican propagandists ruthlessly demonised Orangemen, depicting them as the Klan with Orange sashes."

She also observed that, "Joe McWilliams clearly swallowed (this message) uncritically" and added that this was "unfair, ill-informed and, indeed, prejudiced".

What was depicted by Joe McWilliams in his painting was reflective of something that is embedded in the propaganda and the mindset of Irish republicanism and nationalism.

In the past, some Irish nationalists and republicans have also described unionists as Nazis, or compared them to Nazis, and many folk will remember highly controversial and hurtful comments made back in 2005 by Mary McAleese, who was then president of the Irish Republic, and later by Fr Alec Reid, of Clonard Monastery.

We can expect Sinn Fein politicians to demonise the Orange Order, but it is very disappointing when other politicians and even churchmen indulge in such appalling demonisation.

And one might have expected better of a former president of the Royal Ulster Academy.

Nelson McCausland MLA is chair of the Assembly's culture, arts and leisure committee.

Belfast Telegraph

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