Posted By: July 08, 2014

“ … Orangeism is essentially triumphalist, each parade a glorification of military victory and religious supremacism…”


Fionnuala O’ Connor. Irish News ( Belfast). Tuesday, July 8, 2014.
THE drums are beating. Sweet glimpses of rustic Orange brethren paddling at Rossnowlagh and walking winding country roads are sugar on the bitterness. Bring on the silken banners with their dream of empire and their beautiful names of country lodges, and let’s ignore the drums dedicated to loyalist killers as long as we don’t have to see them.

The trouble with aggrieved assertions that Nationalists vandalise unionist “culture” by opposing Orange parades is that Unionists select Orangeism as the flower of their culture. And Orangeism is essentially triumphalist, each parade a glorification of military victory and religious supremacism. Fine among consenting adults, but as each year’s confrontations demonstrate, it apparently has most value when trucked past objectors whose ancestors were crushed in the name of civil and religious liberty.

The latest pan-unionist front is a surprise only because its predecessor has yet to be stood down. It was only in January 2013 as the flags protests dragged on, after all, that the “Unionist Forum” was established. “The most representative group in the unionist community to meet in half a century,” said Peter Robinson.

The Forum set up a taskforce “to engage with the wider community” plus eight working groups. Don’t ask what they produced. “We want to move beyond protests to political action to get outcomes that are beneficial, not just to the Unionist community but the whole community in Northern Ireland,” Robinson said, in one of his misleading flights of positive fancy. Two months later Orange Grand Chaplain the Reverend Mervyn Gibson said the Forum wasn’t working.

Now the ex-RUC Special Branch man seems to be the guru to the DUP in relation to talks, or rather non-talks. Without the collarette, his name would not be the first pick for someone in search of strategic grasp and tactical confidence.

It was Mervyn, you may recall, who acted as point-man for the Orange in the Hillsborough talks in January 2010 – which with Mervyn’s apparent agreement produced a draft replacement for the Parades Commission, swiftly rejected by the Orange. Embarrassing for the Grand Chaplain you might think, except the Orange doesn’t embarrass easily.

At that stage Ulster Unionists, always closer to the Orange, looked less open to compromise than the DUP. Those talks were primarily meant to surmount the supposed last obstacle to full power-sharing between the DUP and Sinn Féin, in the shape of devolving control of policing. But parading strode to the top of the agenda, and the UUs, relegated as minor executive players, did their dog in manger best.

Martin McGuinness damned the DUP’s decision, “at the behest of the Orange Order,” to make the abolition of the Parades Commission a pre-condition for the transfer of powers. Robinson insisted the DUP were committed to policing and justice devolution: “If others choose to walk away, I believe the wrath of the community will be upon them.”

The weakness in the republican argument is their own conditional support for policing – best illustrated by that McGuinness mini-rant about withdrawing support from the PSNI because they dared to arrest Gerry Adams.

SF pointmen in the past week as so often sounded good only because the unionist argument yet again crystallised as insistence on marching where Orange marches are an insult. This past week it was senior Orangeman Elliott, not his successor the nonOrangeman Mike Nesbitt, who faced the cameras in Stormont and with his plain man’s eloquence voiced “hurt” at the Commission’s entirely predictable decision.

Finding the common denominator helps to stop the head spinning. The Union takes a lot of defending, and the unwieldy and probably un-leadable Orange is the default umbrella. When they reach for yet another front name and muster the legions Unionist leaders presumably draw on the sacred memory of 1912’s communal muscle that stalled Home Rule, and the 1974 strike that brought down the first power-sharing executive. Not a bulky record, but it underpins an apparently unbreakable pattern.

Well, look at it from the other end of the telescope. At crucial moments Unionists shook British governments by reminding them they could make this place unworkable. They were still a majority in 1974, of course, with a 97 per cent Protestant police force. Many unionists, inside and outside politics, have yet to acknowledge that the majority is gone.

But they can still block, if only by refusing to do anything. Even imaginary umbrellas answer grassroots demands for the parties to stop fighting each other and face down nationalists.

From the wrong end of the telescope maybe that still looks do-able.