Orange Dilemma is Simple

In his Ireland Eye column in Tribune magazine, former Blanket columnist Dr John Coulter analyses how the Orange Order has become piggy in the middle in a wider struggle as to which brand of republicanism speaks for nationalists in Ardoyne. A shorter version of this column was published on Friday 26 July 2001.

To the outside world, the current riots in Northern Ireland are about the exclusively Protestant Orange Order wanting to march in overwhelmingly Catholic streets. The underlying reality tell totally different and separate pictures.

Within nationalism, the battle is for the hearts and minds of the republican cause between mainstream thinking as represented by Provisional Sinn Fein, and the dissident factions. Electorally, Sinn Fein is by far the dominant force. At grassrootslevel, a new picture is emerging and this is clearly witnessed in north Belfast, the trigger for the recent July riots.

The Parades Commission in Northern Ireland, which rules on contentious parades, banned a march by the Orange Order and its accompanying marching bands from walking along a nationalist area known locally as the Ardoyne Shops.

Catholic residents have formed themselves into rival political camps, each claiming to speak for nationalists in the locality. On one hand is the pro-Sinn Fein Crumlin Ardoyne Residents Association (CARA); on the other is the non-Sinn Fein Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (GARC).

To resolve the marching dispute, the Orange Order has to talk to nationalist residents. Its dilemma is simple – which faction does it speak to? In Derry, the 2013 City of Culture, the high point of the marching season – known as the Twelfth (12 July) – talks between the Order and nationalist residents resulted in a trouble-free parade.

In spite of the ‘start/stop’ terror campaign by dissident republican death gangs, these groups have been unable to mount a credible political alternative to Sinn Fein in the same way Sinn Fein was able to build itself on the terror campaign of the Provisionals.

But the rivalry between CARA and GARC is clear proof that a niche is slowly emerging on the republican political spectrum for a non-violent, democratic nationalist party which is a realistic alternative to Sinn Fein.

Surely this mantel is held by the moderate nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party, the sister party of the British Labour movement? But the SDLP is fighting for its very existence as Sinn Fein has climbed to power within nationalism by stealing the political clothes, policies, votes – and ultimately seats – once held by the SDLP.

The emergence of an independent republican party won’t threaten Sinn Fein’s European seat in next year’s poll, but it could prove damaging in any following Super Council or Assembly elections.

Slowly but surely the Northern Ireland political scene is developing into a two-party power-sharing Stormont government run by Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists. Eventually, Stormont will return to a situation as existed in the mid-1960s – one main nationalist party and one main Unionist party, with a few representatives from some of the smaller parties.

But the DUP is not without its troubles and this represents the other side of the loyalist riots. Many working class Protestants feel the DUP has abandoned its loyalist roots for the lure of political power at Stormont.

In 1985, the DUP ran its local council election campaign on a ‘Smash Sinn Fein’ platform, yet a generation later the DUP is running a power-sharing Executive with Sinn Fein. That has been a bitter political pill for many grassroots Unionists to swallow.

This year is a rough time for the DUP, but it can take some comfort in the fact that the non-DUP camp within Unionism is so heavily fragmented it cannot provide a serious political alternative to the Peter Robinson-led party.

Caught in the middle of this Unionist infighting is the Orange Order. In spite of inter-republican rivalries and Unionist fragmentation, the Order will be the fall guy in the current marching dispute.

The real danger is that it could eventually find itself being banned altogether, with its existence limited to religious services in church and no parades. Media footage of men in Orange regalia attacking police lines does not auger well with the church-going Protestant middle class.

It was similar violence in 1997 and 1998 surrounding the now annual Drumcree stand-off in Portadown which saw the Unionist middle class abandon the Order in thousands, forcing Orangeism is attempt to rebrand itself as a cultural family movement rather than a Protestant fundamentalist organisation.

The Order was once the cement which held the various pro-Union factions together. At one time, no Unionist politician could ever hope to be Northern Ireland Prime Minister unless he was an Orangeman.

The Order has tried to defend its policies by insisting that republicans are indulging in a co-called cultural war against Britishness in Northern Ireland. But these claims appear to have fallen on deaf ears as the Unionist middle class continues to look to other political movements to find a way out of the parades impasse.

Pluralist Unionists launched a new party known as NI21 as the battle for the pro-Union centre ground with Alliance and the Northern Ireland Tories hots up.

But a new dark horse is emerging in the North as it has done in Britain – Ukip. MEP Nigel Farage’s recent foray to Northern Ireland was a public relations coup. His July Belfast rally brought together a cross section of pro-Union opinion which drove existing Unionist parties green with envy. Meanwhile, the riots continue.


  1. A good read. The Orange Order appears to becoming the liability to political progress for unionism that the IRA became for SF. Though why SF hang on to parades like that in Tyrone yesterday has more to do with a rear-guard action against the new emergent nationalist option John talks of than any genuine republican sentiment.

    Surely after all the 'new departures' SF has embarked upon they have long since passed the point where republican rhetoric and symbolism are surplus to its requirements? Only fear of a new party emerging can explain their embarrassing 'multi-personality disorder' in 2013. Cringe-worthy.

    As for UKIP; I do believe the neutering of the Orange Order and the arrival of UKIP would secure norn-iron with middle class votes across the divide. The RUC will await the emergent republican counter as a hungry chick awaits the arrival of its next meal!

  2. Little [tales ] John-

    Whatever myths you peddle Sinn Fein is the winner of this years parades battle-most people you talk to think that Fridays night anti-interment march was a Sinn Fein one-and I am not going to tell them any different-the Parade in Castlederg yesterday was a huge event for Tyrone Republicans-and well done to all who organised it and took part-[I was at it also]-

    There is more of a chance of a CARC RNU member being elected next year as a UKIP dip-and that chance by the way is a big fat zero-

  3. Wouldn't be the first time Michael that your lot promoted yourself on the backs of other republicans, you have form.

  4. Sinn Fein, in the habit of self promotion on the backs of other republicans, from the horses mouth.

  5. Promoting yourselves on the backs of other republicans, a top down strategy.

  6. MH

    Peter the Punt will be fit to be tied after standing with Marty and that other 'Chief' cuntstabubble at Stormont. I mean, how could SF retreat back to such traitorous criminality?

  7. michaelhenry, do you not think it's a little queer, Irish people acting and apeing the antics of the Orangies they say they are opposed to.
    Republican bands beating drums, dressing in uniforms and causing the prods in a town to feel discomfited is just how it has long been done by the Unionists to us, why not do our own thing, celebrate our own culture and leave the hateful antics to the hateful gits who have been at it for centuries.

  8. Menace

    I tend to agree with you.
    SF just can't properly move on.

    If they did the Orange Order might be defunct.

    Tho' it seems the OO are point blank refusing to halt controversial marches. All others can be halted for 6 months but NEVER the controversial ones. They are the only ones that matter!!

  9. Larry,

    what people don't seem to understand is that being able to say 'fuck the pope' is a very important part of Orange culture. So many people gave up their lives storming German lines just to be able to scream 'fuck the pope' at the uncomprehending lines of Hans, Fritz and Gunther. So at least show some repect for those pope-fuckers

  10. Ronan-

    What type of gun are you using-one sentence then you have to re-load-


    Peter the Punt is spent Currency-bring on the next one-it won't last long either-


    We are not apeing the apes of the orange order-we don't march in their areas- nor would we want to-

  11. Mackers

    I honestly find it numbing that the riff raff are being molly-coddled and facilitated by the authorities and political system.

    Middle class RCs and Prods within norn-iron would surely weather any storm from these Neanderthals if the system actually decided enough was enough. Are the security forces that badly in need of overtime and is the UK government that blind to things here?

    SF are part of the system now, the lack of decisiveness on these endless parades seems to indicate a determination NOT to achieve a permanent end to trouble here. Too much money in it?

    GOBSMACKED at the deliberate stupidity of it all.

  12. Larry,

    It is a failure to come to terms with Protestants in general and the Orange Order in particular that makes 'controversy' such a moveable feast.

  13. Robert

    Protestants need to come to terms with the reality that they are not and never were the only people on the planet. Ulster Protestants are 2% of the UK electorate and the Orange Order is a minority within a minority on this island causing all this endless trouble.

    It's not that the Orange Order cannot modify its behaviour. They march here in Donegal and by all accounts have a fantastic event here annually. I do believe Protestants are a majority in Letterkenny here and there is never an issue. But then the Orange Order insist on marching past 'fenian' areas in Belfast as some sort of birth-right.

    No-one is under any obligation to come to terms with that fascism. Perhaps the hundreds of imminent convictions and ruined futures stacking up for loyalist and Orange rioters will soften the attitude. It worked with SF eventually.

    After all Robert, it's all about the money!

  14. Michaelhenry

    'Peter the Punt is spent Currency-bring on the next one-it won't last long either'.

    I wouldn't put Peter down so easily. After his and Adams respective problems I certainly have higher regard for Peter. Iris let him down but lets be honest, was I a decade or several younger I'd love to have her phone number. Good for her! Adams on the other hand is better not thought about.

    If Stormont (or the twits in it) can take a stand once and for all on the open festering sore of parades here the end-game might be finally in the bag for norn-iron. The Orange Order could very well be consigned to a 'beach near you' in the future.

    That may not please the antagonists, but you MH will have the satisfaction of knowing that SF and yourself in harmony with the DUP saved Ulster from itself.

  15. Mh, it's the way these 'Republican' bands are dressing and behaving which I'm pointing out is apeing the people we opposed for being loud and aggressive towards us over centuries, it matters not a jot where they exhibit this behavior, just act within our own cultural boundaries and leave the neanderthal club waving to the cave men.
    Like you I was in Castlederg on Sunday, though I went to the site of the explosion, I met over a dozen RUC armored jeeps, per capita there are four times as many peelers here than in the free-state, all happy that the overtime they'll get for this summer will get them another car and holiday,I'd say, if Republican's had a walk to commemorate the deaths of comrades followed by a wee session in the Parochial Hall, like Larryo I'm surrounded by them and it's great the looks on their gobs when you walk past with your caman but dressing up like a tin soldier and acting like your enemy is not the best way to annoy them.

  16. Another good article on TPQ chara. As for MH and his crappy posts etc. His Party commemorating Tyrone Volunteers goes against the wishes of the vast majority of relatives who do not want the Stormont Party!

    As for the situation concerning GARC and CARA. CARA are pretty limited in who they actually represent as S/F have ensured that it controls it's policy. Whereas, GARC speak for the majority of local residents and are free from political agendas!

    GARC is only interested in one-issue, unwelcome sectarian marches through our community and are not interested in elections etc.

  17. Ardoyne Shakespeare-

    Hows this for another crappy post-

    " goes against the wishes of the vast majority of relatives "

    Catch yourself on-I did not see the RNU holding a march for the Tyrone Volunteers-they are to yellow-the familys of the west Tyrone brigade fallen read a few verses about their Volunteer and Gerry Kelly presented the familys of Vol Seamus Harvey and Vol Gerard McGlynn with a celtic cross at last sundays march in Castlederg-people look at the facts-not at your ramblings-