Friday, 13 July 2012

The Orange Order: an enemy of ALL workers

It is unfortunate, if perhaps somewhat inevitable, that the now annual battles around the 'marching season' fall along religious lines. The Orange parades are being used to test the supposed neutrality of the northern regime and the RUC in particular. The losing side in this dangerous game however is likely to be the working class, Protestant and Catholic, as the confrontations and the sectarian attacks that occur around the Orange marches drive people further into 'their own' communities.

The reality of the Orange Order is that it is a counter-revolutionary institution set up and maintained to target not just Catholics but also 'disloyal' Protestants. It's formation and spread was encouraged by the British state in the years leading up to the 1798 rebellion precisely in order to drive a wedge between ordinary Catholics and Protestants. The 12th of July was picked as the key date to provide an alternative attraction to the marking of Bastille day and in itself to mark the sectarian massacre that led to the formation of the Orange Order.

The Orange Order was born in Armagh in 1795 as part of an armed terror campaign to deny full citizenship rights to Catholics. This was in the context of struggles between landlords and tenants in the area of which the Anglican Archbishop of Armagh said "the worst of this is that it stands to unite Protestant and Papist, and whenever that happens, good-bye to the English interest in Ireland". Specifically the penal laws forbade Catholics from bearing arms, but radical (and mostly Protestant) volunteer companies in the 1780's had been recruiting and arming Catholics with the "the full support of a radical section of Protestant political opinion"(1).

The sectarian attacks that accompany Orange marches today also go right back to its origins. Again in 1795 up to 7,000 Catholics were driven out of Armagh by Orange Order pogroms. But there was one key difference with today, then many expelled Catholic families were sheltered by Presbyterian United Irishmen in Belfast and later Antrim and Down, and the (mostly) Protestant leadership of the United Irishmen sent lawyers to prosecute on behalf of the victims of Orange attacks. They also sent special missions to the area to undermine the Orange Order's influence.
Indeed the Orange Order probably played a key part in ensuring the failure of the 1798 rebellion. At the time General John Knox, the architect of this policy described the Orange Order as "the only barrier we have against the United Irishmen"(2)after the failed rebellion he wrote "the institution of the Orange Order was of infinite use"(3) . The survival of the Orange Order since, and in particular the special place it was given in the sectarian make up of the northern state (every single head of the 6 counties has also been a senior member of the Orange Order), reflect its success in this role.
The strategy was simple. In order to prevent Protestant workers identifying with their Catholic neighbours the order offered an anti-Catholic society, led by the wealthy Protestants that offered all Protestants a place in its ranks, and the promise of promotion and privilege. The annual parades were a key part of this strategy, they filled two roles. They allowed the working class Protestant members a day in the sun to mix with their 'betters' and at the same time lord it over their Catholic neighbours.
At the same time they exposed radical Protestant workers to accusations of being 'traitors' for refusing to take part in the events. Much of the imagery of loyalism, the bonfires, the bunting and the painted kerbstones provide an opportunity to demand of every Protestant worker in a community 'which side are you on'.
Right from the start the parades have been accompanied by violence as they attempt to force their way through areas where they are not wanted. The first parades of 1796 saw one fatality, but in 1797 14 were killed during violence at an Orange parade in Stewartstown. In 1813 an Orange parade through one of the first areas of Belfast identified as 'Catholic' saw four more deaths.

Article continues:  http://www.wsm.ie/c/orange-order-history-parades