Thursday, 14 August 2008

Inclusive unionism and the Orange Order

Even allowing for the rather hysterical tone which characterises political disputes in Northern Ireland and despite accounting for the time of year and the lack of news, it is peculiarly pathetic that the row regarding Jeffrey Peel’s comments about the Orange Order is rumbling on. Rather than allowing the matter to die a quiet death, David McNarry MLA has decided to dump lustily on the clean floor of common sense and demand a Tory apology, despite the fact that the party has already distanced itself from Peel’s comments and stressed their personal nature.

The specifics of the argument are amply dealt with below and need not be dignified by any further discussion. The blog did not represent the official position of the Conservative Party NI, much less the national party. It patently does not reflect Ulster Unionist thinking on the Orange Order and that should be the end of the micro-debate. A much more interesting argument entails what exactly the position of inclusive, non-sectarian and forward thinking unionism should be as regards the loyal orders.

As previous posts on the topic testify, I have little inclination toward, or interest in being involved with, Orange culture. That is not to say that I would deny the legitimacy of that culture, or even its links to unionism. Nevertheless I saw the removal of institutional links between the Ulster Unionist Party and the Orange Order as an extremely progressive and necessary development. Unionism should be involved in protecting a range of cultures and identities which exist within the UK and should recognise their compatibility with unionism specifically and more generally with Britishness. To privilege one of these cultures above and beyond others runs counter to the inclusive sensibilities which the United Kingdom represents and which unionism should reflect.

Orangeism is a cultural manifestation of what is variably referred to as the protestant, unionist or loyalist community. It is intimately linked to forms of so called cultural unionism which place the Union within a Protestant British context. Whether or not its identification as any form of unionism at all is a misnomer, this form of politics, which seeks to present a monolithic front representing one community and one perceived identity, is interested in preserving the United Kingdom only in so far as that preservation advances the interests of the community / perceived identity. Unionism which is focussed instead on the advantages of the Union and the values which underpin the United Kingdom should be seeking less intimacy with the Orange Order.

Of course that is not to say that members of the Orange Order should not be involved in UK focussed unionism or join parties which represent that ethos. That would run counter to the principles of tolerance and inclusion which unionists must seek to propagate. People who express their belonging to a gamut of cultures and identities, through membership of a range of cultural or religious organisations, should simultaneously feel comfortable within unionism. Nor should unionist parties not defend the rights and interests of the loyal orders and their members. On the contrary, Orangeism’s rights and interests should be protected and advanced alongside the rights and interests of any number of cultural groups within the United Kingdom.

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