Counting the Cost of the Culture Club

As with every July before it, this July has descended into dispute, counter-protest, violence and thuggery. In the eye of this yearly maelstrom is the Orange Order and their “right” to parade.

Rioting, destruction to property and near-death aside, this year has been particularly portentous. Politicians – of all shades – have scrambled over each other to pacify paramilitaries in East Belfast which inevitably proved that violence was a winning formula where a mandate was non-existent. A Parades Commission has reversed decisions to mollify Orangemen who do not engage with it or the people whose streets they wish to walk. The Orange Order sees it as their right to walk anywhere they wish here and, inevitably anyway, they ignore the constraints that are placed on them. Then, as if we have walked through the looking glass, our “reformed” Police Sevice of Northern Ireland (PSNI) then apologized for the removal of flags, including paramilitary flags, outside a place of worship. This legal upholding of an agreed flag protocol was met with widespread rioting and violence including several murder attempts of police officers. Whether the PSNI were apologizing to the rioters, to Unionists or to Loyalist paramilitaries who orchestrated the violence is moot. What is important is that the authorities were once again chastened and kowtowing to violence.

This is the message that will be learnt by paramilitaries on all sides this summer.

Nevertheless, I believe that if Northern Ireland is to move forward, the Orange Order and their parades will have to be curtailed and not necessarily for the reasons you may think I would argue.

Let’s get the big orange elephant out of the way first.

I have a problem with any institution, religious or otherwise, that sets itself so solidly against another religion. This is compounded if said institution is so entrenched that it does not engage with anybody with whom it disagrees and yet professes to be Christian.

In this case, I find the Orange Order to be sectarian. Simple. I believe its quasi-religious fundamentalism to be anachronistic and completely inconsistent with Scriptural teaching. The Orange Institution is well-versed in countering these accusations and whether you consider it is successful or not in doing so is not the point. What is important is that a whole swathe of Northern Ireland’s population thinks that the Orange Order is institutionalized bigotry: “Esse est percipi” (“to be is to be perceived”) as Irish philosopher, Bishop Berkeley, would say. Many of us would perceive a Ku Klux Klan march through Harlem in New York comparable to (and as mad as) an Orange march in Ardoyne. Whether you are disgusted with this analogy or not is irrelevant – there is no argument as this is how we perceive it.

With what I have written above, it may surprise you to learn though that I support the Orange Order’s right to march, to express its culture and to play whatever sectarian tunes it wishes.

Well, up to the point that their “right” infringes the rights of other human beings and that their parades become contentious. This would mean that I support their right to do whatever they want within their own community where they are welcome.

Now, this need not lead us back to square one and I know we have been on this not-so-merry-go-round for centuries – history has taught us nothing it would seem.

Parading and its venomous repercussions, regardless of origin, will have to be curtailed if only on hard cost alone.

Last year it cost us £2.2 million to police “Orangefest” parades in four days. Many of us did not even get to witness what our money paid for as we always take holidays over this period. We do not stay in the North of Ireland but instead take our hard-earned money out of the local economy. There may be thousands upon thousands of loyal brethren spending money on blue-bag carry-outs but this a pittance in comparison with the revenue lost in local business sales or tourism.

So we can waste our breath until kingdom come about the rationality of basic human rights, shared space or culture. Talking about loving thy neighbour can be saved for the pulpit. Nobody will listen anyway and there will always be someone who disagrees. Nor can we hope for positive leadership within the moribund Order Order. What will drive policy over the next five years though will be simple mathematics: We cannot afford men in bowler hats walking down streets where they are not welcome.

My solution is simple: if the Orange Order wants to walk anywhere, so be it – Amen. Let them stump up the cash for policing their little parade.

Police authorities have not been so light-footed with the Orange Order  in Scotland (see related news report). As with any crowd event, be it cultural, sporting or musical (the irony is sticking in my craw), it is a requirement to draw insurance and provide professional stewarding or the event is cancelled. So the same should follow for Orange Order parades. If they are in their own area they could marshal their parades adequately at a minimum cost and indemnity. If they want to walk along the Queen’s highway into an area where they are not welcome then they should naturally pay for the greater policing and insurance costs. This will offset tolls to clear streets of the rubbish, drinks’ cans and puke their culture vultures leave on our pavements. Premium indemnity will also cover the millions of pounds worth of damage caused by bonfires, anti-social behaviour and the rioting that invariably follows.

This, and nothing else it seems, will make the organisation accountible for its actions.

The disorder of Orangefest 2011 comes at a time when the vast majority of us, of all religions and colour, are against a wall with little or no money. It is bad enough that we will be paying the gambling debts of bankers and politicians for another generation. My argument here is simply based on value and cost. WE CANNOT AFFORD PARADES SUCH AS THESE!

Disclaimer: Ciarán MacAirt does not that advocate throwing sponges as they pass.

Post Script

Coincidentally, Bishop Berkeley, who I quoted above, was Bishop of Cloyne, County Cork,  which is in the news recently due to clerical abuse of children. That is a post for another day but it is telling that I would follow the same lines of argument. Fundamentalism, entrenchment, abasement of Human Rights and an unwillingness to learn is endemic in the Roman Catholic Church as well.

Perhaps the Orange Order and Roman Catholic Church could share costs and engage the same marketing company if they are to sell us their messages in the future. There are serious brand issues at stake.

October 2011: BBC News tells us that the cost of policing this year’s orange parades hit the £6m mark which is an absolute disgrace. At the time we learn that a Hunger Strike Commemoration parade held by Republicans in the ir own area and attended by 20,000 people did not cost anything. The lesson to be learned is stark: march only where you are welcome or pay the cost yourself.

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