Platform proceedings: the Orders in their own words

With the County Grand Lodge considering a judicial review of the Parades Commission ruling, a spokesman for the County Grand Lodge of Belfast has said:

In addition to the normal denials of rights and freedoms that the Parades Commission regularly impose, this impossible demand would deny these brethren the opportunity to attend the platform proceedings, including the religious service at Barnett Demesne…

A recurring contradiction in the Orders’ position is in selectively citing examples of quiet country parades while demanding a single public management strategy to deal with all Order parades (north of the border) without any differentiation between their individual legacies or contexts. Simultaneously, individual Lodges and Counties seemingly retain their autonomy in deciding their own particular strategies on a variety of issues. If we take this at face value – the issue being proposed for judicial review – the opportunity to attend the platform proceedings – can be usefully placed in the context of the Orders own words during these proceedings.

I’m including two examples below by simply going back five years and then ten years to see what was reported from the ‘platform proceedings’. The first is the words of Alfred E Lee, the Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland as reported in the News Letter section on ‘Voices from the Field’ in 2002 (available via paywall here), the second is the Grand Lodge of Ireland resolution read out in 2007 and reported in the press.

In both instances, a political message was delivered from the platform which was explicitly unionist. Despite, and notwithstanding, all the claims to the religious and cultural aspects of ‘the Twelfth’, politics has been and continues to be a dominant and dominating theme, and that nexus of parades, feeder parades and flags is undeniably political. For once, the Orders and unionism need to face up to a reality of their making.

I’ll do a re-cap of what gets said this from the platforms this year in the next week. Maybe they’ll surprise me? In the meantime, see below for the Orders in their own words.

Alfred E Lee from the Belfast News Letter (13/7/2002):

“For more than 30 years there have been many occasions when we felt discouraged, especially when we saw murder after murder, bomb after bomb, and one seemingly weak Secretary of State after another, carrying out the same old policies, making the same old statements and not wanting to grasp the nettle.

“We have endured a campaign of terrorist violence, murder and destruction which no other civilised society would tolerate. We have been treated to empty promises, we have felt deceived and betrayed by political initiatives.

“The Belfast Agreement has failed to do what is supposed to have done – bring peace, stability and reconciliation. Unionism is in a state of disarray largely through the battering it has received from its own Government and the deep divisions which have arisen in the Protestant and unionist community because of tactics used by elected representatives to defend the Union.

“The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, while supporting the concept of a fully democratic devolved parliament for Northern Ireland has been consistent in its opposition to an Agreement which has resulted in the early release of convicted terrorists found guilty of the most heinous crimes.

“The Agreement also led to the total demise of the RUC – a gallant police force which provide assurance and stability for all the decent law abiding citizens of the country.”

Mr Lee added: “Because of the Agreement, the traditional symbols which confirm the Britishness of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom are being needlessly swept away by a Government whose Secretary of State in the Province seems to be arrogantly working to his own agenda.

“The Protestant unionist culture and tradition is denigrated as being meaningless and of no value in the new society which political masters in an uncaring British establishment are shaping for us.

“Those who believe in maintaining the Union with Great Britain should realise it is not in the best interests for Ulster unionists to push on agreeing more and more bad deals to try and save an agreement which has delivered so much for republicans. It would appear that there may be so- called unionists, who are more interested in personal ambition and a lust for political power rather than being guided by political principle and philosophy.

“Today, the members of the Orange Order are called upon to face a task more difficult than any of their forefathers knew. It is true our forefathers knew a lot about persecution, but nothing of the soul-destroying apathy of the present day.

“Never has there been greater need for members of the order to be true to the Christian faith and the principles of the order. In these days of new and changing philosophies the Orange Order must play a militant and effective part in upholding the ancient Christian faith and the stability of a Christian society.

“As members of an order based on holy scripture we are not anti-Roman Catholic; the order is not a negative anti-Catholic organisation but a truly Protestant witness for faith. The truly committed Orangeman embraces the great Reformation principles of civil and religious liberty and, while he may not agree with a man’s religious beliefs, he will never deny him the right of conscience.

“We are met to emphasise what is central in our way of life – namely our faith in Almighty God, and if we forget that, we have betrayed the trust of our Protestant heritage.”

And, from the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland Resolution read out from the platforms on 12th July 2007:

Orangemen, with other unionists, fully support the Union between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. We call our members to a role of civic and community leadership within these islands. The moral and civic ethos which our Institution instils is much needed at this time in a secular world where Christian values are discounted by those in authority.

Our Institution watches with interest the developing political situation in Northern Ireland and, like many others within the unionist community, shares grave reservations about the presence of those in government whom we would not see as democrats in the accepted sense of the term. The commitment of Sinn Fein/I.R.A. to proper democratic government will be constantly monitored and the opportunity presented to them by the recent election results is a test which they must not fail.

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