Friday, 28 May 2010

Order has no positive role to play in unionist politics.

None other than Tom Elliott MLA, senior Orangeman, has urged the Order to stay out of politics.  His heckles had been raised by Robert Saulters, Grand Master of the Orange Order, who last weekend called for a single unionist party.

It says something that Elliott, who has spoken enthusiastically on the theme of ‘unionist unity’, felt moved to slap down Saulters.  The Grand Master is closely linked to the DUP, and indeed he signed Ian Paisley Junior’s nomination papers for the Westminster election.

Clearly Elliott feels that there was a partisan subtext behind Saulters’ comments which ran beyond concern for the Union.  He is quite right that the Orange Order should not intervene in politics, because its interventions are usually disastrous for unionism.

Since its formation, the Orange has tended to undermine constructive unionism and bolster its regressive wing.  Indeed the Order, which might present itself as a stalwart of the Union now, took a while to be convinced of its merits.

Senior Orangemen were leading proponents of Dublin rule for the first part of the nineteenth century.  Government from Westminster threatened to introduce a modern form of citizenship which, they rightly feared,, might even extend the franchise to Catholics.

So the Order stayed neutral on the Union and a substantial section of its leadership actively advocated a return to a Dublin parliament.  British allegiance wasn’t allowed to trump anti-Catholic prejudice.

While Liberal and Peelite Conservative voices in Ulster championed the Union for its ability to reconcile Protestant and Catholic neighbours, sections of the Order raged against Catholic emancipation, a Catholic university, the Reform Act, anything which might make Irish Catholics feel comfortable and included in the United Kingdom.

Which meant that Orange voices were amongst the most vocal campaigning against the development of the tolerant, modern British state which we enjoy today.

Despite all the public relations reverses unionism has suffered due to its Orange connections, not much has changed, and its influence can still be decisive.  During the election campaign, in South Belfast, the Order intervened to undermine a bright, articulate and moderate candidate in favour of an Ulster nationalist dinosaur.

Now its most senior figure is hoping it can act as midwife for a united unionist party which, if it were formed with Orange interference, would have even less chance of attracting liberal and Catholic pro-Union voters.

Of course the Orange Order is not the ogre of nationalist myth.  As a fraternal organisation it can play constructive role in communities.  Its Christian ethos might seem to hinge more on pathological anti-Catholicism rather than a positive engagement with Protestantism , but no doubt it is important to members who share a faith.

As an historical remnant the Orange Order could, one day, even become quaint, but as an organisation aspiring to play an active role in unionist politics, it has absolutely nothing positive to offer.

8 comments:

andrewg said...

It's always fascinating to see how quickly supposedly concrete political principles can change. All it takes is for a generation to die out.

JeffPeel said...

I like to think that I'm continuing the Peelite tradition.

Seymour Major said...

Neither have elected Orangemen.

So long as Orangemen are put up as candidates in elections, their very presence will continue to produce negativity and hamper progress in unionist politics.

Elected unionist like Mr. Elliot could do unionism a great kindness by either resigning from the Order or leaving politics altogether.

Anonymous said...

Seymour Why?

orangism has been linked to Toryism for generations, to some it may be an embarassment but look deep in your family roots - if you're from Ulster - and guess what they are there.

Having said all that the OOneeds to become as benign as other fraternal organisations and until it gets decent leadership it isn't happening any time soon.

Deirdre said...

Take it you've seen Peter's contribution to the debate as reported in the Newsletter today? I especially enjoyed the principle of non-sectarianism. If, as peter robinson proposes, the UUP save his skin by signing up to jint candidates and a shared whip- is it the DUP whip and a 50-50 split on candidates? Or is it a proper coalition a la Lib Dems and Conservatives? just asking
Also, where does unionist unity leave non-aligned, secular unionists? Do they really want to be aligned with the party which allows the Culture Minister to try and bully a world-class museum to promote his world-view and religious views whilst going against accpeted scientific theory?

Anonymous said...

Yes, it was the Orange Order's fault that Bradshaw tanked in South Belfast and nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that Jimmy Spratt was a superior candidate or that the UCUNF message was toxic and the messenger was a virtual unknown. Must try harder Owen!

Chekov said...

The words 'superior' and 'Jimmy Spratt' don't belong in the same sentence.

Anonymous said...

Neither do the words bright and Paula Bradshaw.