Orange Order in disarray

william3

A recent book written by current Orangeman Rev. Brian Kennaway lifts the lid on the current division and disillusionment existing within the Orange Order. This book is more significant and impacting due to the fact that the writer – Mr Kennaway – was Convener of the Orange Order’s Education Committee from 1992 until 2000. His explosive book exposes the double standards of the Order and their condoning of violence and Paramilitary behaviour over the years. It also shows the lack of leadership at the top and the general decline in standards and discipline of the Order. As we have stated repeatedly on this board, the decline that began in Belfast a long time ago has quickly moved out to greater Belfast and to the rural towns currently. The religious principles of the Order have been replaced by impotent Political aims. Whilst the Order purports to stand for the honourable principles of the Reformation, she in fact opposes them by her inward practices and words. Christians caught in the middle of this religious Institution must surely make a choice whether they are going to condone the compromise or separate from it.

The Order I hold dear

Chris Thornton talks to Brian Kennaway, author of the controversial new book on the Orange Order 21 April 2006

How things change. In 1996, Brian Kennaway was asked if he would consider standing for election as the Grand Master of the Orange Order. He declined, and a decade later instead of leading the Order, the Crumlin Presbyterian minister finds himself standing as its leading internal critic.

Next week sees the publication of The Orange Order: A Tradition Betrayed, Rev Kennaway’s thoroughly detailed critique of his brethren’s role in and response to the turmoil and uncertainty of the parades’ dispute. Beginning with extracts published exclusively in the Belfast Telegraph, he gives an insider’s view of the Order’s struggle with shifting social and political sands in Northern Ireland, and its leadership’s often ham-fisted responses. It concentrates on the Order’s recent history, analysing the whirlwind around Drumcree and finishing – devastatingly – with a critique of the Order’s behaviour over last September’s Whiterock parade and riots.

This is not new ground for Kennaway. As convenor of the Orange Order’s Education Committee from 1992 until 2000 – a period encompassing the most serious Drumcree years – he was outspoken in his views about where the Order needed to change. Former Assistant Grand Master William Porter, another minister, says in the book’s introduction that under Kennaway “we had at least one committee which was trying to relate the Order to the real world”.

Now detached from the upper echelons of the Order, Kennaway finds himself in a classic reformer’s position: spoken of disparagingly by many members who take his criticisms as tantamount to disloyalty, and embraced by others who share the desire for change. Newly-elevated Lord David Trimble, who is due to officially launch the book next, describes Kennaway’s criticisms as a chance “to bring the Institution back to its roots and core principles.”

That, says Kennaway, is his goal. “If you love someone and you see them abusing themselves and endangering their existence, if you really love that person you’ll do everything in your power to save them,” he says. “And therefore, in that sense, this is an attempt to get the Institution to save itself.

“The other answer is that ordinary rank and file Orangemen have been totally and blissfully unaware of the duplicity of the leadership over the years, the total lack of courage of leadership. They will not make decisions and stick by those decisions.

“The Biblical text that comes to mind is that of James chapter 4, verse 17: `He that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin.’ In other words, it’s wrong for people who know what they ought to do and simply don’t do it.

“This to me has been revealed in a multitude of ways – and I record that throughout the book – when the leadership at various levels know what they ought to do but haven’t got the courage to do it. I think the ordinary rank and file Orangemen need to know what’s gone wrong with our institution.”

Duplicity in the leadership? “When they tell people the policy of the Grand Lodge is not to talk to the Parades Commission,” he cites as an example. “‘We don’t recognise them, they’re an unelected quango’, yet at various levels throughout the Order they are making contact with the Parades Commission, including the leadership.”

Any conversation about the Orange Order leads to parades. Not just because this is the most public face of the Order, but mainly because Drumcree and other infamous routes have such a severe impact on wider society. Rev Kennaway believes the “confrontational nature” of the parades dispute has heightened the Order’s problems.

“It’s been the reason I think why a lot of people have left the Order, because it’s become very confrontational, especially in Belfast. And it’s been the reason why a lot of folks haven’t joined,” he says.

The Orange leadership argues that the parades dispute is not of their making. “I agree entirely,” he says. “The confrontation over parades is not of their making, but is of their resolution.

“They have not looked at the big picture and they’ve been shortsighted and tried to, as it were, save areas rather than look at the bigger picture. I mean the phrase that’s often used is ‘keeping the road open’ by having a parade in it. That’s shortsighted in my view.

“The resolution is in the hands of local people who want to build up local relationships. But it’s largely because of the kind of ghetto-isation in Belfast where people live in their area.

“Before residents’ groups existed, people ought to have had dialogue. It’s what I’ve said before in other situations, if the Orange is, as it says it is, a Christian organisation then they cannot refuse to talk to anyone made in God’s image.”

But many in the Order – probably most of the leadership – believe that calls for a dialogue are part of a wider republican conspiracy against the Institution. “That may very well be,” says Kennaway, “but that’s no excuse for not trying to resolve the issue.”

He does not believe that the Order’s problems lie solely in its clashes with nationalism. He also explores the relationship with loyalist paramilitaries – both the Order’s frequent failure to publicly disassociate itself from its members convicted of loyalist activity and the alignment or acquiescence to loyalist groups at flashpoint parades.

“That’s important. That’s not been addressed,” he says. “I think it’s a central issue.

“There’s no official link. There’s no official connection, but as (former UDA leader Sammy) Duddy has said, ‘they come to us and say can you help us get up the Springfield Road or down the Newtownards Road’.

“Now, quite honestly it’s only in recent years I realised this was going on. It’s done so surreptitiously I did not realise it until relatively recently. I didn’t know that the parades were escorted around by paramilitaries in confrontational areas.

“I mean, I was quite horrified to discover that. Therefore, when you put yourself in the position of the Catholic/nationalist residents who live in those areas or the fringes, you can understand why they object. They’re going to object all the more.

“So it’s self-defeating. Because their real objection, I suppose, is not that Orangemen are walking quietly past their areas or through their areas – and they have maybe not quite articulated it clearly – but their real objection is that they see these parades being escorted by bands that have association with paramilitary groups and by the well-known local leaders of those paramilitary groups. So I can understand that that is actually making a bad situation worse.”

He takes a similar position on the question of internal discipline. Frequently the Order has said that members convicted of crime will be dealt with by the institution, but the evidence of that is scarce.

“Discipline is not dealt with internally. It’s talked about but it’s not dealt with. That’s the problem,” says Kennaway.

“If any organisation refuses to take the difficult decision and deal with their own recalcitrant and law-breaking group, it leaves them in the position where they have no moral authority to give leadership in a community.

“When I joined the Orange Order, if a member of the Orange Order in the 1960s got into some legal difficulty, the very first they would do is resign rather than bring the Orange Order into disrepute. Now it seems as if a criminal charge is like a badge of honour. That’s the huge difference that there’s been in 42 years.”

Again, the Orange leadership explains that structure of the institution works against the swift application of discipline – that local lodges are ultimately responsible for the members and the central organisation cannot dictate to them.

“If it is a decentralised power, then how come the central power instructs people to have nothing to do with the Parades Commission?” Rev Kennaway asks. “That’s the contradiction of it.

“It’s decentralised when it wants to be. This is the confusion of it all. People haven’t the freedom to give leadership. They’re constantly looking over their shoulders. That in some ways restricts leadership.”

Is there a structural problem with the Order? “It’s a human problem on the part of leadership,” he says. “I think they don’t recognise that they are called to make difficult decisions at times, and to articulate the reasons for making those decisions to the grassroots or the rank and file membership.

“But see, the rank and file membership are by and large quiet people. It’s the vocal – more right-wing if you like – group within the membership who dictate things.”

Despite the wealth of criticism, Kennaway does not align himself with those opposed to the Order, defending it from the charge that is by nature a malign, sectarian force. He recently opposed the Republic’s Tanaiste, Mary Harney, after her attack on the Order.

“I pointed out that the language of the (membership) qualification is no more sectarian, no less than the language used by all the churches – Presbyterian Church, Church of Ireland, Roman Catholic Church. So in that sense it’s no more, no less sectarian than the churches.

“I think that’s the position of the Order generally. Okay, the language is antiquated. I think in today’s society because the only acceptable intolerance is the intolerance of intolerance, they ought to change their language. But they seem unwilling or unable to do that.”

Kennaway never set out to be a critic. “It’s been painful to write. I’ve lived through much of that stuff and struggled through it internally,” he says.

He harks back longingly to the Order he joined in 1964 at the age of 20, and the book is described as being written more in sorrow than anger. “I joined for the simple reason I believed in the values of Orangeism, the core values,” he says.

“I believed it has a contribution to make to society. I didn’t join for any political motivation, because I’ve never really been a member of any political party. I saw the Protestant Reformed Faith as deriving its historical context from the Glorious Revolution of William, in whose memory Orangemen meet.

“I have not changed my beliefs in those things one iota. I still hold dear to those core values which the Institution today says that she still embraces and stands for.

“When I joined the Orange Order, we met in Clifton Street Orange Hall, which was then an absolute hub of activity every night of the week. Now it’s like a ghost town. When you went to your lodge there was a warmth of fellowship. There was a bonding. Therefore the Order provided to me and others with a male-bonding fraternity.

“Now things have changed dramatically. Orangeism has been devastated numerically in Belfast. Halls are struggling to keep open. There is now a kind of bitterness that did not prevail in the early years when I was involved. Others have said the Order needs to cut a niche for itself in society. It can do that. It can go forward by going back. If it goes back to its own core values, if it abandons what is perceived to be the anti-Catholic rhetoric and the 16th-17th century language, I think it has a place in today’s society. The Orange Order to save itself has to get back to its own core values: tolerance, citizenship, religious piety, brotherhood, fraternity.”

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