24 June 2006

Rebranding Orange Order Parades?

This story was in yesterday’s Guardian

The grand secretary of the Orange Order wants to promote the institution's annual parades, which have often descended into sectarian violence, as tourist attractions rivalling the Notting Hill carnival in London. Drew Nelson’s long-term project is to rebrand the bowler hat and pipe band ceremonies seen often as ritualised territorial claims. He envisages the marching season as a cultural celebration of one of the United Kingdom's "ethnic minorities" - Northern Ireland's protestants.

Having severed its formal links with the Ulster Unionist party, there are signs that the Orange Order is considering adopting a less overtly political position. Officials for the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland have met the Irish government, in Dublin, the Catholic Primate, Archbishop Sean Brady, and nationalist Social Democratic and Labour party. These overtures signal recognition that, after years of confrontation and violence associated with the parades, the order needs to rethink its tactics.

Perhaps unsurprisingly these overtures have been met with a degree of caution: "We would like to see a carnival atmosphere too," said an SDLP official, "but it's difficult when one community has victims from past paramilitary attacks."

"I would like to see the Twelfth of July [commemorating William III's 1690 victory at the battle of the Boyne] become a tourist attraction," said Mr Nelson "It's one of the most colourful spectacles. Only the Notting Hill carnival can beat it in the British Isles. Notting Hill has overcome its problems of drugs, and deaths. We can overcome our problems."

My initial thought was “Well, Umm.. err. you'll be lucky!” While it is true that the days of rioting at the Notting Hill carnival are a thing of the past I get the feeling that the Orange Order will have a mountain to climb before their 12th of July parades are seen as tourist attractions. The same would be said about parades to commemorate the Easter Rebellion in the North.

In my view the priority (regardless of one’s stance on a United Ireland, whether you are Nationalist or Unionist) must be to break down the centuries of sectarianism and bigotry. How to do this is a big question but I imagine it will be a long and tortuous path. Perhaps then the bowler hats will be seen simply as part of Ulster’s rich tapestry and not a symbol aggression.


mullet said...

What a comparison....Notting Hill/12th July! What next...the Isle of Wight festival/SA apartheid?

jams o donnell said...

I know what you mean! When I said good luck it was in the sense that I can't see that happen any time soon.

Anonymous said...

Let's not ridicule this comparison so quickly. Perhaps the Orangemen have had a genuine epiphany. No longer the unregenerate christian conservatism of old with its prohibition on drink and debauchery. No more the grim faced men brandishing instruments of medieval warefare and glaring reprovingly at passersby. No more picking out every last corner of the land, with uncanny emphasis on those places where they are not wanted, to pour their disdain on what they take to be the vile scum of the earth. Now, happy smiley faces, dances, thong-clad girls with girating hips, an all-embracing love of life and liberty bursting forth in the streets and pro-tem overturning traditional structures of authority in a massive public display of reverlry and enjoyment.

I don't see any problem there at all.