Orange Order troublemak ers need to be disciplined
Their leadership is in denial, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards
I LOST my friends among the leadership of the Orange Order a couple of years ago when I wrote the only rational explanation for their supine behaviour was that they had been slipped a date-rape drug. These abstemious men will be even more upset that today I'm comparing most of the Orange leadership to alcoholics, who periodically realise they have a serious problem, vow to do something about it and then dive into the comfort- blanket of denial.
Take last week. The Portadown District officers genuinely did not want violence at Drumcree and worked harmoniously with the police to ensure a peaceful and "dignified" protest. Yet when things turned nasty, instead of defending the police against the troublemakers, the Portadown officers, marshals and law-abiding brethren turned and marched smartly away to their Sunday dinners leaving some Orangemen and many hangers-on creating mayhem in their wake. And despite subsequent condemnation, there is no sign that the Portadown officers are moving decisively against their lawless members; the familiar sounds of "Nothing to do with us, guv, and anyway, anyone can buy an Orange collarette" are in the air around Drumcree.
Then there is HQ. After the televising of the disgraceful scenes of bloodied cops and screaming men in collarettes, Grand Lodge properly expressed its "anger and disgust" at the attacks on police and promised to discipline any Orangemen involved. However, in last Wednesday's Irish Times, the Reverend Brian Kennaway bluntly explained why we shouldn't be holding our breath.
In the company of Robert Saulters, the Grand Master, in 1997 Kennaway stood with the priest and the Catholics of Harryville in protest against those who were picketing the church, yet promises to discipline the brethren involved came to nothing. There are many other such instances; in a few lodges convicted murderers have been excused on the grounds that they had been provoked into violence by republicans.
Saulters, the good, kind but oh so malleable Grand Master, is still saying offenders will be disciplined, but those around him who persistently bully him away from the path of sense (talking to the Parades Commission, for instance) are swinging HQ back into denial. "We have to look at what prompted normally law-abiding citizens to act in the way that they did," announced George Patton, the Order's Executive Officer, on Friday. Early in the week he had spoken of expulsions. Now he was urging his audience "to consider the frustration, hurt and, indeed, anger that was vented in a way that they accept was wrong, they regret and quite clearly would never have normally been involved in".
Thus a man who denounces any concessions to terrorism explains away violence against the security services. "It is now time to show Christ's love and tolerance for those who have expressed regret for their actions rather than snipe at them along with some of the Orange malcontents," intoned Denis Watson, the Grand Secretary, piously.
Thus Watson, a member of the Assembly and a stalwart of the Salvation Army, now directs his ire at his former friend Kennaway rather than at people who spat at and struck policemen. The Imperial Secretary, John McCrea, the main power behind the bed of nails that Saulters occupies, in the course of a robust and justified attack on Tony Blair's failure to honour his promises about holding paramilitaries to their word, condemned badly-behaved Orangemen, but then explained they would be dealt with "by internal procedures". In practice this means either that action will be postponed and nothing will be done, or that something will be done so secretly that no one outside will know about it.
It was McCrea who suspended from membership (albeit briefly) a few Orangemen who in 1994 made offensive gestures outside a bookies where loyalists had killed five Catholics. But, since he is a disciple of the 'mustn't wash our dirty linen in public' school, he acted in private, so leaving affronted nationalists with their legitimate grievance unassuaged and Orangemen unaware that bad behaviour was unacceptable.
I have much sympathy with all those ordinary Orangemen 95 per cent of whom are decent and law-abiding folk who have been traduced by the black propaganda of Sinn Fein and forced into confrontations they never sought. As Gerry Adams put it in 1997, three years of death and devastation at Drumcree had not happened by accident. "Three years of work on the Lower Ormeau Road, Portadown and parts of Fermanagh and Newry, Armagh and in Bellaghy and up in Derry. Three years of work went into creating that situation and fair play to those people who put the work in," he gleefully told his followers. More than four years on, Sinn Fein strategists still exploit the marching season for all its worth, basking in the knowledge that the Orange leadership will put themselves in the wrong at every opportunity.
It may be that the publicity given in Northern Ireland to Kennaway's challenge will force the leadership into doing something sensible. It was a tactic that worked brilliantly with republicans on Friday. Embarrassed at the PSNI's loud warning that the Provos were planning violence in Ardoyne, the IRA was forced to change tactics and marshal the protest tightly. Mind you, 20 policemen were injured, but then 24 were hurt some badly at Drumcree. The IRA will not be disciplining members who hurt policemen. Will the Orange Order?