Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

Orangemen marching to tune of compromise

Attacks on the Orange parading tradition strike at the core of the Protestant identity. They are unlikely to encourage a 'shared future' any time soon, argues David Hume

I am currently pondering an email from a family in Aix-en-Province in France who want to come to Ulster for the Twelfth this year.

Their oldest son is a student at a Reformed Theological College and they want to see the Orange parades at first hand. The father, Edward, emailed to see if someone could be their guide as they want to know all about the parade.

Last year the Northern Ireland Tourist Board sent an observer to the Twelfth in Bangor and she was surprised to bump into a couple from Ypres, Belgium.

The reason they were at the Twelfth was because they had seen Orangemen at First World War commemorations and had decided to come over to see the lodges on parade. These are examples, but they are not isolated. More and more tourists are including the Twelfth as part of their plans when visiting this part of the world.

These tourists mean bed nights, revenue in restaurants and cafes, sales in gift shops and maybe even the odd postcard being sent.

I believe that the Twelfth has much to offer the overall Northern Ireland economy - and I know that our members are supportive of that. The Orange Order has developed its Twelfth Tourist Flagship programme to assist with the cultural tourism potential of Northern Ireland and is pleased to be working with the tourist authorities in this regard.

The parading tradition, on which the Twelfth rests, is one which dates back well into the 18th century.

The first parade by the Orange Order was in July 1796. Prior to that there were parades in July by organisations such as the Boyne Societies.

And the tradition of public parading was maintained by organisations as diverse as the Irish Volunteers in the 1770s, the Freemasons until the 19th century, the Good Templars, which was a temperance organisation which had banners, regalia and parades until the 1930s, and others.

Ironically, perhaps, the two main fraternities in Northern Ireland which still express their culture through parading are the Orange Order and the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

People do not have to share the values or ethos of either to appreciate the heritage and legacy which they portray and the colour which they bring. The Northern Ireland of the future must be able to accommodate both such traditions and respect that those involved hold dear to belief systems.

That one is Protestant and the other Roman Catholic merely underlines who as a people we are and the fact that our belief structures have a strong moral ethos and basis to them.

While there are some areas where there are community tensions over parades, thousands of them pass off without any difficulties. Interestingly enough, our estimate that around 400,000 to 500,000 people participate in, or spectate at, our Twelfth parades highlights that more people do so than turned out to vote for unionist parties (our natural constituency) at the last European election (237,436).

As far as the Orange tradition is concerned, our parades are about witness for our faith and our culture. They are not, and should not, be about 'coat-trailing' or antagonising anyone. Those on parade are often literally following in the footsteps of their fathers and grandfathers - a survey by Salford University showing recently that 49.4% of our members join for family reasons.

We all know that there is a right to public assembly and parades. There is also a responsibility by those on parade and anyone unhappy with them to ensure that, whatever the opposing viewpoints, they express ourselves responsibly, peacefully and with respect. Across the world today there are people suffering hunger and pain far greater than the pain which would allow an Orange parade to pass along the Garvaghy Road.

Part of the understanding, which the wider community not involved in Orangeism needs to have, surrounds why the Order parades, and what motivates its members.

The University of Salford survey showed that 17% of members joined because of their religious viewpoint and 10% cited heritage and identity. The members express civic responsibility, often through involvement in community groups and by casting their votes at election times.

When asked what they saw as the main role of the Order, 49% said that they believed it had a cultural role and 45% cited a religious role. More of the members questioned - 2.5% - saw it as having a social role than a political one.

The Orange Lodge is the cement which binds a diverse range of people together. We have a wide spectrum of occupations and backgrounds in our Order and that gives us enormous strength and a sense of fraternity.

The Orange Order is the organisation which brings together Protestants from all churches and occupations. It is an umbrella which has been a unifying factor through years of tensions and turbulence.

We know that parades in the past have caused difficulties, but believe these difficulties were engineered by republicans for political ends. It would be hoped that, as far as mainstream republicanism is concerned, those days have passed.

When historical analysis takes place of our era, it may well conclude that the Orange Order prevented our society from slipping further into an abyss. One young Orangeman tells the story of how after his father was murdered he could have easily joined the paramilitaries and sought retribution. Instead of joining the paramilitaries he joined the Orange Order and turned his back on the idea of violence.

More than 330 Orangemen are on the roll of honour of those murdered by republican terrorists.

Whenever there is difficulty with one of our parades, the members feel that, once again, they are the innocent victims of a campaign which would not end with parades being barred.

We do not parade to antagonise. We parade to celebrate who we are and what we believe.

Parading is part of us. Attacking our parades strikes at the core of the Protestant community and is unlikely to bring a shared future whatever way you look at it.

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