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15 June 2015

Proud Orangemen are pro-Protestant, not anti-Catholic

David Scott

I heard David Scott, who runs community education for the Orange Order, on Talkback last Monday and very good he was, too. As I know from experience, when under attack on that kind of programme, it can be difficult to keep one's cool, but he stayed calm throughout in spite of the provocation.

And as I know from weary experience, if you're saying a good word for the Orange Order, there will never be any shortage of people queuing up to denounce it (and you) as bigoted, racist, violent, stupid, triumphalist and without any role in the modern world.

It's as if people are so frustrated by having to avoid racism, sexism, homophobia and so on that they seize on the apparent licence to be rude about what tens of thousands of white Protestants hold dear.

Seamus Close, of the Alliance Party, was on as well and was patronising in the manner of well-meaning people who think the answer to every problem is for everyone to behave like them.

He pooh-poohed Scott's suggestions about making the Twelfth inclusive. His helpful suggestion was that parades should be held in a special arena, so that there wouldn't be any interference with traffic and they would be seen only by those who wanted to see them.

Unfortunately, free speech is a messy business and the point of parades - Orange, republican or gay - is to demonstrate to the community at large who you are and what you stand for.

Lunatic fringe apart (and every organisation has one), it can never be said too often that, as David Scott emphasised, the vast majority of members of the loyal institutions are pro-Protestant, not anti-Catholic.

They celebrate Protestantism, because they see the Reformation as a great social as well as religious movement, which brought with it principles that benefit all, like freedom of conscience, egalitarianism and the drive towards literacy.

They celebrate King William winning the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, not as a reason to crow over their neighbours, but because they believe that victory was vital to securing of civil and religious liberty and saving the British Isles from absolute monarchy.

These developments all helped to make Protestant countries a powerful contributor to philosophy, science, engineering and other key elements in the great leap forward in the Western world that was the Enlightenment.

What the ordinary, decent Orangeman wants is to be allowed to demonstrate his pride in his culture and heritage - something he does mainly through banners that venerate those he believes were heroes in those struggles and bands that represent a long musical tradition.

It suits the enemies of the loyal institutions to dwell on the kick-the-Pope bands - and, indeed, lodges should have nothing to do with them - but in a sane world, the whole province would be proud of the marching bands.

It would help if everyone learned to use the adjective "parading", rather than "marching".

On a recent count, of 700 parading bands in Northern Ireland, 54 were Catholic and 13 non-denominational, which means Protestant bands make up 90%.

Around half of the 700 are flute bands, which are the cheapest to run: pipe, accordion, silver and brass make up the rest.

On Saturday, June 6, I watched a cross-section of parading bands performing in Glasgow's George Square for the Orange Order's Culture and Heritage Day. Sitting close to an accordion band on the platform, I could see the family nature of it, with men and women, young, middle-aged and old, playing skilfully and a boy of about 10 proudly banging his triangle.

Let's not kid ourselves. In recent decades, many young men and women have joined blood-and-thunder flute bands in order to made a tribal statement. But wasn't it better they were steered that way, rather than towards paramilitary gangs?

There were many senior people in the loyal orders who persuaded young people that, rather than get involved in violence, they should expend their energy on learning how to play a musical instrument.

David Scott makes the positive case for the Orange Order. I only wish more of its members learned how to do the same. And that more outsiders opened their minds and listened.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards