“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”- Malcolm X.
On the 3rd of July Drew Nelson, the Grand Secretary of the Orange Lodge of Ireland, spoke before Seanad Éireann. As if this was not already surreal enough, he claimed his organisation would welcome an opportunity to march through Dublin city. I don’t know about Mr Nelson but I remember what happened on the 25th of February 2006.
What was particularly galling about this cosy little visit to our national parliament however, was the Orange Orders attempt to portray itself as a defender of a beleaguered minority. Quick to draw attention to sectarian attacks upon Protestants during the last few decades of conflict, Nelson also criticized budget cuts to Protestant schools in the Republic. This is probably the first time that the Orange Order have attempted to take the side of the oppressed rather than the oppressor- after all, they have plenty of experience in acting as the latter. The organisation was formed amid the Penal Laws of 1790s Ireland and took part in the expulsion of large numbers of Catholics from the province of Ulster. The Orange Order, throughout history, has a track record of upholding the privileges of elites, whether they be the Protestant Ascendancy of the eighteenth century or the bigoted Stormont government of the twentieth. Why is a group which has continually blocked any Irish effort at self-determination and discriminated against those who indentify themselves as Irish permitted to send its members before the Seanad to present a lecture on tolerance and equality? I am keenly awaiting a predominantly African-American city council in the US to receive members of the Ku Klux Klan.
This is not an isolated incident. A prominent trend exists in the Irish media for all blame for the war (Yes, it was a war despite the euphemistic description of ‘The Troubles’) in the north of this island to be attached to republicans. I’m no great lover of Sinn Fein and I do not condone many of the heinous crimes committed by republican paramilitaries. Yet to listen to many prominent figures in the media, one would believe that no atrocities were ever committed by British state forces or, perish the thought, members of the unionist community. In today’s Sunday Independent we have Eoghan Harris criticizing Sinn Fein and claiming nobody should associate a party with a blood-stained legacy. A similar diatribe is to be found in last weeks article, but here Harris also gives himself enormous credit for having dealings with the Orange Order which he believes to be ‘a rational response to particular historical pressures’. The hypocrisy in Harris’ words is astounding. He attacks all actions by the paramilitaries which arose from a colonized and downtrodden people but defends the organisation which enforced this discriminatory social order. If he believes that the blatant bigotry of the Orange Order is historically justifiable, why not the violence of the IRA? Because Harris has fallen into a common trap for Irish journalists and academics- the belief that bringing about peace in Ireland require berating the past violence of any Irish nationalists while justifying or even sanctifying that committed by the British government or its pawns in the unionist community. Such an approach does not aid peace. It allows the thuggish bigoted members of the Orange Order to carry on believing that they are in fact the oppressed. In doing so, it sows the seeds for yet more violence and hatred to emerge from the Protestants of Ulster.