If you were handed £800,000, what would you think? Me, I’d be asking myself “What have I done to deserve this?” So as the Orange Order takes in the happy news that the EU has forked out £800,000, Drew Nelson and the boys must surely be scratching their heads and thinking “What have we done to deserve this?”
Maybe it was that parade up the Ormeau Road where they passed the bookie’s and held up five fingers to indicate the number killed in the sectarian attack there? Maybe it was a reward for having preached freedom of religion but opposition to Catholic Emancipation in 1829? Or was it the way the Order sat down with residents’ groups and talked about how Orange marches might best celebrate the things they believed in, without trampling over the self-respect of other people?
Whatever the reason, the Order is today feeling very happy. Its grand treasurer William McKeown says “This will equip the Protestant community with the ability to engage with the wider community”. It’s not quite clear what wider community does William has in mind. Non-Orange unionists? Non-Orange nationalists? Residents’ groups? Even more important: what is it about £800,000 that lets you engage with people, whereas if you didn’t have £800,000, engagement would just be off the menu, a non-starter?
David McNarry, well known as a unifier among unionists, also welcomes the wad. “It presents an opportunity for the Orange to grow in confidence in these areas where previously the Order has never been given a chance to demonstrate in those communities its honourable stance for equal rights and equal opportunities”. When you pick the bones out of that self-devouring sentence, David seems to be saying that there are places where the Orange Order couldn’t demonstrate how keen it was on equal rights and equal opportunities. But. But wasn’t the fact that nearly every Prime Minister of Northern Ireland was an Orangeman, during the decades when equal rights and equal opportunities were the one thing that wasn’t available – doesn’t that suggest the Order might be more into unequal rights and opportunities?
But yes, you’re quite right, there I go again being mean-spirited and begrudging. This isn’t about the past, it’s about the present or the future (apart, of course, from 1690). That said, I know the Order is sincere, not to say desperate, in its desire to change. So any day now, you can expect it to take the red pen to those bits of its documentation which insult the Catholic faith and reject anyone who darkens the door of a Catholic church to attend Mass. Expect it to take a very tough line on anyone caught with so much as a can of Coke in their fist on the Twelfth. And stand by for a rush on bowler hats and blue bags.