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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Fig Leaf

The Orange Order's decision to formally scrap its links with the Ulster Unionist Council is mere a cover for how it has betrayed the Protestant people by not becoming an effective mobilising movement for unionism.

Dr John Coulter • 21 March 2005

For two years, I have fervently maintained that Orangeism should abandon unionist politics and return to its primary function of defending the Biblical principles of Jesus Christ in an increasingly pluralist and secular society.

In practical terms, the Order did just that this month when it finally scrapped its century-long link with the Ulster Unionist Council, the 900-delegate governing body of the Ulster Unionist Party.

On the surface, Orange spin doctors will blow their trumpets and hammer their Lambeg drums as to how the Order has been the great cement which has held the Protestant people together in the face of everything from the Home Rule crisis to the ethnic cleansing policies of the Provos.

The Order's supposed reason for breaking the link is that the unionist political landscape has changed considerably since 1905 when Protestants electorally lined up behind a single Unionist Party.

On the Order's own admission, there are several unionist parties all claiming to defend the Union with Great Britain. Talk of unionist unity and electoral pacts might as well be part of a Monty Python sketch.

All these fine words from the Order hide one of the great betrayals of the Northern Protestant people - that Orangeism has failed to prevent political fragmentation within political unionism.

Over the last century, the Order has become the political equivalent of a heroin addict - without its dabbling fix and meddling in Ulster politics, it feels it doesn't have relevance. Yet without realising it, it has hidden behind its numerical superiority as one of the largest Protestant movements on the island, whilst at the same time failing as a vehicle of communication between the various Protestant classes and groups of political opinion.

The Order seems to have ignored that Protestant's greatest ideological strength, namely its ability to openly debate within its ranks, is also its fundamental weakness.

In the 20th century, whilst Irish Catholicism maintained the discipline of a single Church, Protestantism split into more than two dozen different denominations across the island, arguing over such petty issues, such as which was the more Christian - infant baptism, or full immersion? Or, should women be allowed in church if they didn't wear hats?

Politically, Orangeism remained virtually mute when in the last generation, almost a dozen political unionist parties and movements indulged in the luxury of internecine verbal feuding, resulting in the loss of key seats to nationalists and republicans.

This same fate has also befallen the fringe Independent Orange Order, which has around 1,000 members dotted around the North. Whilst traditionally viewed as a Protestant working class movement, many of the Independents' leaders and brethren are high ranking DUP elected representatives or activists.

Structurally, the time has also come to merge the old Order with the Independents. The old Order is offering the lame duck excuse that a lot has changed on the unionist political front since 1905.

It is totally hypocritical of the Order to claim it is scrapping the UUC link because there is more than one unionist party when it is the fault of the Order that so many parties have emerged over the past century.

If the Order had been doing its role properly as a communicator amongst unionism, it would have guarded the Unionist Party from the dangers of possible breakaway movements.

There would have been no need for Ian Paisley to form the DUP if Orangeism had done more for the Protestant working class and encouraged more fundamentalists to join the Unionist Party.

Is the Order now going to hop out of the political bunk it has been sharing with the UUP, and jump into bed with its new lover, the DUP? Will the Paisley party now become burdened with the same baggage of parades disputes the Order dumped on the Trimbleistas?

On paper, the Order's great strength was that the Protestant aristocracy could sit in the same lodge room as the ordinary Protestant worker and refer to each other as 'brothers'. In reality, its great failure was its inability to break down the class structures within Northern Protestantism.

The Order, like the Unionist Party, remained firmly in control of the Protestant landed gentry with a small sprinkling of the upper middle class.

Had the Order activity sought the practical participation of the Protestant working class, especially in the ruling Grand Lodge of Ireland, there probably would never have been a Progressive Unionist Party, Vanguard Unionist Party, United Ulster Unionist Party, or any of the other breakaway movements from the main Unionist Party.

Like it or not, blame for political fragmentation within unionism rests with the Orange's inability to hold the Protestant family together. Ironically, Orangeism now has a second chance to make amends for this great betrayal.

Likewise, Orangeism must also carry a large part of the blame for unionism's decision to abandon the Southern unionist identity during the Home Rule crisis and especially in the years before and after partition.

Realistically, the Order has only one path to take if it wishes to remain relevant in modern day Protestantism.

It must become a Protestant Opus Dei, a fundamentalist movement totally dedicated to spreading the 'born again' message of Jesus Christ using its network of halls throughout the island as a platform for a religious revival.

Grand Master Robert Saulters' next edict is simple - 'Forget politics, brethren and sisters! We need an 1859-style Auld Tyme Revival'. Protestantism, like Irish Catholicism, is being bombarded by many of the 21st century's popular 'isms' - secularism, pluralism, commercialism, atheism, materialism, and even New Ageism.

The Order can spearhead a campaign to bring the Protestant people back to the principles of the Reformed Faith as outlined by Christ in the Biblical New Testament.

As a political entity, the sad reality is that overall the Order has failed the Protestant people. It can redeem this failure by becoming an overtly evangelical Christian outreach movement. But even on this mission, the clock is ticking for the Order.






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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

22 March 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

A Must Read
Mick Hall

Green Paper on Irish Unity
32 CSM Press Release

The Advisocrats
Anthony McIntyre

Fig Leaf
Dr John Coulter

Democractic Killers
Fred A Wilcox

Eamon McCann

No Dodging the Moral Dilemma
David Adams

After St Patrick's Day, Where Goes the Peace Process?
Fr. Sean Mc Manus. INC

The Left Way Could be the Right Way for Sinn Fein
Eamon McCann

Robert McCartney
Carol Mallon

Don't Lose Perspective
Richard Wallace

Anthony McIntyre

Is Spring Banging at the Doors of the Arab World?
Michael Youlton

The Letters page has been updated.

16 March 2005

Statement from the Family of Knife Murder Victim Mark 'Mousey' Robinson
Robinson Family, Derry

Power in the Pub
Anthony McIntyre

Why No Arrests? (Whose agenda are we working to)?
TR FitzSimons

McCartneys: how the personal became political
Brendan O'Neill

No Breakthrough
Michael Benson

Hope for Justice
Mick Hall

Provisional Thuggery in Strabane
Des Dalton

Basking in the Glory?
Dr John Coulter

This Is What Democracy Doesn't Look Like
Fred A. Wilcox

Way Beyond Orwell
Eoghan O'Suilleabhain

Aliyah and the Oligarchs
Mary La Rosa



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