Orange Order Needs to Talk

John Coulter with a piece that initially featured in Tribune magazine. It was published on 10 March 2014.

Will the real Protestant Orange Order please stand up as the IRA’s political wing wants to know which branch of the so-called Loyal Orders to talk to? The failure of the talks hosted by leading American diplomat Richard Haass on parading in Northern Ireland may have been because the Protestant Marching Orders are deeply divided on which direction to take.

This year did not begin well for the Orange Order, the largest Protestants-only institution spawned in the 18th century from the violent terror gang of that era, the Peep O’Day Boys, so known for their dawn raids on Catholics.

Even the dogs in the street know the solution to the parades controversies lies in direct face to face talks between Loyal Order officers and representatives of nationalist residents’ groups.

While the Orange Order views itself as a Christian organisation, to many Catholics – and a growing section of the liberal Protestant community – the Order has gained the reputation of being the Irish equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan.

Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein president and Member of the Dail for Louth in the Irish Republic, used his party’s recent annual conference in Wexford to again hold out the hand of friendship to the Orange Order. While a substantial section of loyalism could dismiss this gesture as well-choreographed spin, the Sinn Fein leadership has a real problem over which faction of the Order to meet. There is a difference between more liberal Unionist Orangemen in rural areas, compared to the more militant urban leadership.

During one recent parade protest, a senior Belfast Orangeman publicly appealed in his speech for Protestants not to learn the Irish language. His statement was made all the more daft because the Belfast County Orange organisation once boasted an individual branch – known as a lodge – which was called Ireland’s Heritage and had its name emblazoned on its banner in Irish.

While Sinn Fein has “laid claim” to the Irish language as part of republican heritage and culture, it was actually one of Ireland’s largest Protestant denominations, Presbyterianism, which kept the language alive in the 18th century when English-speaking colonial forces were trying to have it stamped out. Indeed, it was radical Presbyterians who were the driving force behind the doomed 1798 rebellion in Ireland by the United Irishmen movement.

The Orange Order’s Belfast leadership seems to forget that the organisation’s ruling body is called the Grand Lodge of Ireland. The movement has thriving lodges in the southern Irish border counties of Donegal, Cavan, Monaghan and Leitrim.

Ironically for the Order is that one of its most successful parades takes place in the Irish Republic. Traditionally, on the Saturday before the main July 12 demonstrations in Northern Ireland, the southern lodges hold their annual Boyne commemoration in the Donegal coastal village of Rossnowlagh.

Since the Drumcree standoff crisis erupted in the Northern Irish town of Portadown in 1995, the Rossnowlagh parade has increased in popularity, prompting suggestions that the Order should hold more parades in the Republic in isolated villages. Those within the Loyal Orders who favour direct talks with nationalist residents groups also faced the dilemma of what factions genuinely speak for the republican community. The dissident republican terror threat has not been mirrored with an increase in political support for dissident parties.

On some contentious parade routes, especially in north Belfast, the Loyal Orders have to contend with two nationalist residents groups – one backing Sinn Fein, the other supporting dissidents. The urban and rural split within the Orange Order is also reflective of the wider rift in the Unionist community with the growth of a dissident loyalist movement opposed to First Minister Peter Robinson’s Democratic Unionists being in power at Stormont with Sinn Fein.

Perhaps one way Adams could kick-start significant talks with the Loyal Orders would be to concentrate on talking to the leadership of the more senior of the Orders – the Royal Black Institution. Also formed in the late 18th century, the Royal Black is more overtly religious, holds fewer and less contentious parades and is generally viewed as “a poor man’s version of Irish Freemasonry”.


  1. to see something of the orange order mentality, have a look at some of the posts on -they are nothing but power-crazed bigots who knight themselves in self-knighting ceremonies!

  2. Eurofree3,
    Regardless of the mentality of the oo dialogue is the way forward. I can't bring myself to agree with John Coulter the man's a moron but how do we even understand other people never mind come to agreement without dialogue?

  3. David Higgins - no problem having dialogue with anybody but what do you do if the other side is not prepared to talk?
    Who refuses to engage with resident groups along contentious routes?
    Which organisation has a disproportionate number of Stormont MLAs, distributed through all Unionist parties?
    Which organisation styles its members as Grand Masters, Worshipful Masters and Black Knights?
    Which organisation seems detached from modern reality, living in some cloud cuckoo land of its own making?
    Why should any sane person/political party pander to/foster the fantasies of said organisation?

  4. Dr. Coulter if the Orders held a remote notion of talking then why would that wait until some party comes knocking on their door they could always do the same but that is probably beneath them.
    Isn’t all this rubbish just an accepted sectarian way of life for these institutions the entire premise is defeating Catholics on a field long ago?

    I would think when it comes to contentious marches those who oppose them have the better argument as we have no interest in the grand Pooh-Bahs or Dragons stomping in their kick the Pope dreams. No one minds if you kick the pope in uncontested areas.

    Shouldn’t it be the other ways round the people of Ardoyne have to contend with the bigots considering they reside in the area and the bigot march is transient?
    That is some spin that one order holds fewer and less contentious parades what is the translation of contentious the locals are getting in the way of some loons who insist they are grand whatever wee title they give themselves similar to the other grand wizards, knights and dragons from that other prestigious Protestant mob of the Klu Klux Klan.

    Would the Protestants accept a St. Pats day march down the Shankill or even down the Crumlin road?

    If the Orders were decent there would be no contentious parades then all marches could pass-off without incident, obstruction, or objection.

    Your article suggests SF should take of their Paddy Cap and go plead with the more moderate but what about the no surrender hardliners who only answer to god and still live in their dream world of kick the Pope.

    You seem to view contention as one-sided if there were no parades through contested areas then that would end the contention.
    It is hardly a black eye for nationalists but shows the extreme bigotry of those Lodges/Orders who insist they have a right to march where they please.

    The so called Christians should be able to march around in the name of peace and goodwill but that is not the Loyal Christian way somehow God goes missing at contentious marches only to appear in the headline those taigs are robbing us of our cultural heritage.
    There should be no need for talks the educated Orders should just avoid contentious areas and that would be plain and simple commonsense!

  5. Dr. Coulter,

    “Six Royal Black Institution members knowingly breached a ban on playing music outside a Catholic church during a march in Belfast, a court has heard.
    The August 2012 ban was imposed outside St Patrick's Church, Donegall Street.
    Six men appeared at Belfast Magistrates' Court charged with breaching a Parades Commission ruling in their role as alleged organisers.”

    Sounds like the Royal Black order might not be as docile as you promote them to be.

  6. Eurofree3,
    Your right if one side doesn't want to talk there can be no dialogue. I certainly wouldn't be pandering to the orange order under any circumstances however I would say if they ever want to have a grown up conservation without triumphalism we should be prepared to listen.
    The onus is on the oo to just listen to peoples concerns without the might is right attitude. Who knows maybe one day.

  7. Appreciate your reply david. Always willing to talk to anyone as I said earlier but as I see it there is nothing behind the loyal orders' pomp and circumstance except bigotry, triumphalism etc which serve to fuel their desire for power.Their religious do-goodery is just a smokescreen.
    They get their members into political positions and if you are a member you will get a position which is why they wield power far beyond the influence of their actualnumbers (about 2% of the total NI population). Every attempt to curb their power is met with violence. But until it is curbed NI is going nowhere.