The Orange Order in Their True Colours

By Garavelli, Dani | Scotland on Sunday (Edinburgh, Scotland), July 9, 2017 | Go to article overview

The Orange Order in Their True Colours


Garavelli, Dani, Scotland on Sunday (Edinburgh, Scotland)


@DANIGARAVELLI1 At midnight tomorrow, the Belfast sky will turn orange as scores of giant bonfires are lit to mark the start of the traditional Twelfth of July celebrations. Then, on the day itself, half a million people, including a large contingent of Scots, will walk to the beat of lambeg drums as parades commemorating King William's victory over James II and VII at the Battle of the Boyne are held in 18 towns across the Province.

The Orange Order walks - to some a celebration of Protestant culture, to others a flagrant anti-Catholic provocation - are a reminder that Northern Ireland's decades of conflict are never far from the surface. Though the Good Friday Agreement and the setting up of the Parades Commission put an end to the large-scale civil disturbances that had become a fixture at flashpoints such as Drumcree, smallscale flare-ups persist.

This year, there have been fewer than usual; one of the most intractable disputes - centred on Ardoyne in Belfast - has finally been resolved. But the marches will take place against a backdrop of political upheaval provoked by Brexit and the collapse of the powersharing agreement at Stormont.

The spectre of a hard border with Eire and the DUP/Tory alliance, which undermines the UK government's role as an impartial broker, has put the peace deal at risk and left Northern Ireland in a state of uncertainty.

Developments at Westminster also mean this year's celebrations are likely to be subjected to greater public scrutiny. With six out of 10 DUP MPs members of the Orange Order, there has already been an upsurge of interest in its activities.

So, were international news teams to descend en masse on Belfast tomorrow, would they witness much that would shame the politicians propping up the Conservative government? Last year, Glasgow-based Irish journalist Peter Geoghegan covered the city's Twelfth of July celebrations for the first time, and was horrified by what he witnessed. "I was shocked by the level of hatred," he says. "All the Catholics leave the city for the day and there are effigies of the Pope, signs saying: 'Kill the Taigs' and drunken teenagers singing: 'Up to our knees in Fenian blood.' "It does raise the question: if, once a year, you have an event which is entirely exclusionary, how can you ever build a shared and cohesive society?" Meanwhile, Scotland - which has its own history of anti-Irish Catholic discrimination - is still dealing with the fallout from last weekend's Glasgow parade. Around 4,000 people and 63 bands took part in the procession from George Square to Glasgow Green, with a further 4,000 turning up to watch.

Here the marching season is taking place against a different political canvas: the continued debate over independence and a general election which brought SNP losses and Conservative gains.

But the impact has been the same: it has magnified the Orange Order's sense of its own importance (while simultaneously increasing the backlash against it) and put the marching season back in the spotlight.

While many of its supporters - whose identity is closely bound up with Rangers FC - have faced humiliation as the club's fortunes have declined, the institution appears to have been emboldened, by the "bloody nose" delivered to the SNP, by its putative role in the Tory resurgence and by the DUP's new position of power.

Certainly some observers reported an increase in Union flags on lampposts (in defiance of Glasgow City Council's prohibition) while a note of triumphalism crept into the speeches at Glasgow Green.

There was also - inevitably - some sectarian abuse. Though there were only eight arrests, footage of a band playing the music to the outlawed Famine Song - as onlookers belted out the words - led to a major online backlash and calls for future marches to be banned.

Though - somewhat ironically, given the DUP's position on Brexit - the Orange Order's right of assembly is enshrined in the ECHR, there is an enduring unease about the sheer number of marches and a belief, among many, that there is no place for displays of bigotry in modern day Scotland. …

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