Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Orange Order is at a crossroads

On Monday, the Twelfth demonstrations will be held all over Northern Ireland, but the Orange Order members are as uncertain as ever over which road to march down.

Progressive elements within the Order want to market the parades as a festival, a tourist attraction. They have rebranded the event as Orangefest and introduced some new cultural elements to the marches. The Twelfth is a day packed with pageantry, colour and history, vital in making it more widely accessible.

But at the same time the Order has set its face stonily against draft legislation to deal with contentious parades. Having roundly condemned the existing - and prior - Parades Commission, the Grand Lodge has said it cannot accept draft laws which would get rid of the Commission.

This, in spite of the fact that the working group which drew up the proposals consisted in part of politicians who are either in or close to the Order and who would be sympathetic to the Order's concerns about restrictions on parades.

Sometimes it appears that the Order is so steeped in its historic siege mentality that it automatically goes into a default mode of rejection when presented with any fresh thinking. For an organisation which proposes civil and religious liberty for all, it seems strangely incapable of breaking free from its own restraints. It has a history to be told and celebrated, but will there be anyone left to listen or cheer if it continues to portray itself as a body unwilling to change?

The Orange Order will never have a better opportunity to regain some of its appeal. The number of contentious parades is low; the political climate is much more inclusive than at any time in the history of Northern Ireland; the number and diversity of visitors to the province is greater than ever and even the shops in Belfast are to trade on the Twelfth to attract more people to the city centre.

The city is open for business, but is the Order really open to change?

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