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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Order seems to have ignored that Protestant's greatest
ideological strength, namely its ability to openly
debate within its ranks, is also its fundamental
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
Order, like the Unionist Party, remained firmly
in control of the Protestant landed gentry with
a small sprinkling of the upper middle class.
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
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
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.
the Order has only one path to take if it wishes
to remain relevant in modern day Protestantism.
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.
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.
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.
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.