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20 July 2015

Orange Order needs to face up to reality and act positively on parades issue

The crowd that confronted police lines on Woodvale Road

Before social media, the only criticism a journalist got came by post. These days, it comes in the comments under your article, the callers to the radio programme, Facebook, Twitter and so on.

Before I began to write yet another article about the Orange Order, I read some comments about what I'd written previously. This was typical.

"So this week you're gonna have to defend the injuring of police officers, attempted murder of children and threats from the latest hooded paramilitaries - mustering up excuse after excuse for the poor, misunderstood loyal orders, their law-breaking bandsmen and their hangers-on."

Comments like this remind me that, since a large number of negative critics don't actually read what one writes, there's no point in arguing with them.

Those who bother to read what I write about the Orange Order know I'm a friend who can be very critical.

For people like me, last week was very depressing. Of course, the vast majority of parades were uncontentious and went well and most Belfast Orangemen behaved properly, but the Order has plenty to answer for.

As Councillor Graham Craig, a Sandy Row Orangeman, put it, the withdrawal of marshals was "completely irresponsible".

Certainly, in my view, those who took that decision bear some moral responsibility for injuries to the police and Phoebe Clawson and the subsequent lawlessness.

It is no excuse to say that they hadn't expected such crowds in the Woodvale area: everyone sensible did.

"The Orange Order is a law-abiding, Christian organisation," said Mr Craig and its "watchword" should be "to be law-abiding".

It wasn't enough just to tell people "not to commit criminal acts. You have to act in a way that ensures they do not commit criminal acts. Doing a Pontius Pilate isn't good enough".

He added that the violence at Twaddell was also disastrous for the Order. And regretted that it hadn't had the sense to follow the successful example of the Apprentice Boys and choose dialogue and engagement, rather than confrontation.

Mr Craig's remarks followed those of Stuart Brooker, the Fermanagh County Grand Master, who had spoken of the "sense of being ashamed" felt in Fermanagh at the violence in Belfast. "The wider community here gets on very well together - we don't want to see this sort of situation."

And, while he regretted the nationalist opposition to the Ardoyne parade and blamed a "mixture of paramilitaries and youths who want to cause problems", he spoke tellingly of how, "in Fermanagh, we have been working hard in our community and reaching out as never before".

Even if a parade had been blocked, "I would not envisage the same sort of violence. Yes, there would be upset and we would not like that, but the same violence would not occur down here".

But then, as a friend of mine on Facebook pointed out: "Fermanagh has never experienced inner city angst ... young men and women are in a state of constant anger and many see the police as fair game - add in a disgruntled assembly of marchers who are not allowed walk up their perceived home road and it is a recipe for chaos."

The Belfast violence has been a disaster for the Order. It has given heart to those who hate it and made many of its members and friends despair.

It would help if the Grand Lodge of Ireland were to urge lodges to expel the badly behaved, sack bands with rule-breaking members and remind everyone that every member is bound by the Qualifications of an Orangeman.

It would also help if it faced reality and did something constructive about contentious parades.

In addition to having a humble Christian faith, the Orangeman is required "to cultivate truth and justice, brotherly kindness and charity, devotion and piety, concord and unity, and obedience to the laws… he should seek the society of the virtuous, and avoid that of the evil".

And while he should "love, uphold, and defend the Protestant religion" and "strenuously oppose the fatal errors and doctrines of the Church of Rome", he must also be "ever-abstaining from all uncharitable words, actions, or sentiments towards his Roman Catholic brethren".

Otherwise, all he's doing is giving ammunition to his critics.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards