I was on the Stephen Nolan show on BBC Radio Ulster yesterday, discussing plans a man called Jim has for an Orange Centre in East Belfast. Jim sounded perfectly sane but his project sounds like a March hare on acid.
He figures such a centre is needed because ‘unionism and Orangeism have been marginalised’. Eh? With 3,000 Orange marches a year? I thought it was the rest of us, pulling aside for yet another march to pass, that were the marginalized ones.
Certainly let’s celebrate those things we value, let’s have a mosaic-type Belfast dotted with different centres of culture. But the object of celebration must have value and the Orange Order has two difficulties on this front: its history and its ordinances.
The Order came into being in 1795 with the killing of some thirty Catholics, a number of them unarmed, at what was called ‘The Battle of the Diamond’. That same year Lord Gosford, the Governor of Armagh, said “It is no secret that a persecution is now raging in this country…the only crime is…profession of the Roman Catholic faith”.
Orange marches in Belfast throughout the nineteenth century repeatedly drew intense rioting that resulted in the destruction of Catholic homes and the taking of Catholic lives (see Andy Boyd’s book Holy War in Belfast). With partition in the twentieth century, unionist politicians almost always had to be members of the Orange Order - remember David Trimble doing his famous arm-in-arm with Paisley, celebrating Orange feet on the Catholic Garvaghy Road?
In its ordinances, the Order declares that all Orangemen “must strenuously oppose the fatal errors and doctrines of the Church of Rome” and must “scrupulously avoid countenancing (by his presence or otherwirse) any act or ceremony of Popish worship” (that’s the Mass, the sacred centrepiece of Catholic liturgy). If you’re a Catholic, if you’re married to a Catholic, if you attended a Catholic service, you can’t be an Orangeman.
Yes, there is a need to heal the wounds we have inflicted on one another over the years. Yes, there is a great deal of learning to be done about Ireland. But if an instititution in its history over centuries and in its rules and ordinances shows an inherent hostility to the faith with which nearly fifty per cent of the population identify, will celebrating that institution help healing?
Come on, Jim. The Good Friday Agreement promises us all freedom from sectarian harassment, and you want public money to celebrate the achievements of the Orange Order? Tell me this is a massive Easter spoof.