Summer Adjournment

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:41 pm on 20th July 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 3:41 pm, 20th July 2017

It is always a pleasure to speak in these Adjournment debates, and I look forward to each one. People say that I always speak in Adjournment debates, but there you are. In the past, I have taken this opportunity to talk about Northern Ireland’s history and culture, and it is important to get that in Hansard. I have spoken about the Apprentice Boys and the Orange Order, but today I want to speak about the Royal Black Preceptory. People will know about 12 July, which is a bank and public holiday in Northern Ireland. It is a celebration of our culture, history and heritage and, for people who may not be aware, it is important to those who wear a collarette and walk down a certain street. I want to speak about why members of the Royal Black Preceptory put on their collarettes and hold their head high and walk at parades in the so-called marching season.

The Royal Black Preceptory, or the Institute of the Imperial Grand Black Chapter of the British Commonwealth, was formed in Ireland in 1797, two years after the formation of the Orange Order in Daniel Winter’s cottage, Loughgall, County Armagh. Its headquarters remain in Lurgan, County Armagh. It ran on an informal basis until 14 September 1846, when the Royal Black Institution was placed on a permanent basis through its reconstitution at a meeting held in Portadown.

From that point, the institution was infused with new life, vitality, inspiration, discipline and a foundation, which has helped it to stand the test of time and to expand to the worldwide membership that exists today. The tiered structure of the institution has its foundation in the local preceptory. Each preceptory has a unique number, which is allocated by the governing body when a new warrant is issued. The preceptory elects officers, who represent their membership at the next tier, namely, a district chapter. Officers from the various local district chapters come together and form a county or provincial grand chapter. My Royal Black Preceptory is number 675, Ballywalter Crimson Arrow. I have been a master and a district master and am currently the register.

The officers of the various county or provincial chapters constitute the membership of the governing body known as the Imperial Grand Council. One of the institution’s most colourful and well-attended events is the annual demonstration at Scarva in County Down, which is traditionally held on 13 July. Preceptories from Portadown, Newry, Tandragee, Markethill, Banbridge, Rathfriland and Lower Iveagh take part along with many national and international visitors.

Exceptional numbers of people turned out this year. I believe that across the whole Province there has been more interest in our culture and history this summer than ever before. The numbers who attended and took part in the demonstrations or parades have been phenomenally larger than normal.

Other demonstrations attended by the majority of preceptories in Northern Ireland are organised on the last Saturday in August each year, usually across six different venues. A demonstration is also organised for the second Saturday in August in Fermanagh, attended by preceptories from Fermanagh, Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan. There is also one in Scotland, attended by all Scottish preceptories.

I will quote the official website of the Royal Black Institution:

“At the beginning of the 21st century, the Royal Black Institution is poised to continue its valuable role in maintaining its witness for the Christian Reformed Faith and fostering friendly relations among people of a common heritage on what is truly a worldwide scale.”

The basis of the Royal Black Institution is the promotion of scripture, the principles of the Protestant Reformation, and religious freedom, democracy and liberty for all. The Royal Black Institution has preceptories throughout the world, mainly in the major English-speaking countries, and is particularly strong in Newfoundland, Canada. The society is also popular in Scotland—I see that some of my colleagues from Scotland are here today—where 60 preceptories exist, organised into 11 districts across the country. In Glasgow alone, 26 marches by the Royal Black Institution took place in the year 2009-10.

We walk on the last Saturday in August. This year, the demonstration will be held in Comber, which is in my constituency, for the whole of County Down. For those who love marching bands, the preceptories demonstration always brings an exceptional quality of bands. The Royal Black Preceptory members are well turned out, in suits, ties and in some cases bowler hats.

The society is formed from Orangemen and can be seen as a progression of that order, although they are separate institutions. Anyone wishing to be admitted to the Royal Black Institution must first become a member of an Orange Order Lodge, and many people are members of both. The Royal Black is often referred to as

“the senior of the loyal orders”.

The Black’s foundations are scriptural and it does not involve itself in politics or take “political” stances that sway towards one particular political party or another, while the Orange Order has traditionally been seen to play a more prominent role in Unionist politics. When people talk about “political rallies”, that is why many Black preceptory members do not associate with such rallies.

I am a proud member of the Royal Black Preceptory 675, along with my brother Keith, and I walk proudly, understanding that when I walk I carry with me the weight and history of our nation. The fact is that the underlying principle of the Black is religious freedom, which I greatly appreciate and often speak about in this House. It means a lot to me and to all the other people whose fathers and grandfathers have proudly stood under the scriptural banners of the lodges. Although there may be some on either side of the divide who seek to make such walks a political action, as a politician I can proudly say that that is not my purpose when wearing my collarette. My purpose is to declare that I hold to the tenet of religious liberty for all, and cling to the right to express and celebrate my heritage and culture as a man who loves God, loves scripture, loves his community, loves culture and loves our marching season.

I will give a note to anyone in this House—right hon. Members or hon. Members— who invites me to any events on 12 July or the Black Saturday. For some reason, I will not be available. On those two occasions back home, I have a long-standing engagement of celebrating who I am. Although I really appreciate such invitations, I am sorry that I will not be able to take them up.

I thank Mr Deputy Speaker, the other Deputy Speakers and Mr Speaker, and the staff of this House, for their kindness to all of us as right hon. and hon. Members, including the catering staff, the security staff and especially Hansard, who often translate my Ulster Scots into English, which I appreciate very much; Hansard does very well. I wish all right hon. and hon. Members a very relaxing and peaceful holiday. They deserve the break. What a privilege it is to come to this House to represent our constituents. We are very privileged to do so and I thank the people of Strangford for giving me the chance to do that again.