Attacks on Orange Halls

Part of Private Members’ Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 am on 11th September 2007.

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Photo of Nelson McCausland Nelson McCausland DUP 2:30 am, 11th September 2007

Like others, I declare an interest, as I have been a member of the Orange Order for more than 30 years.

In proposing the motion Alex Easton said that, in spite of the peace process, there have been more attacks on Orange Halls in recent years. The number of the attacks and their increasing frequency led to the proposal of the motion. Although the DUP condemns all attacks on places of worship, or any property, there is a need to highlight the unique situation regarding the Orange Halls.

In April 2007, in my constituency, there was an arson attack on Greencastle Orange Hall on the Whitewell Road, which followed an attack that had taken place two months earlier. The hall had also been targeted by arsonists on three previous occasions, and was destroyed by arsonists seven years ago. That situation could be repeated across all constituencies.

In his comments, John O’Dowd said that he supports PSNI investigations into attacks on Orange Halls and said that information should be provided to the police to enable them carry out those investigations. However, consideration of the cause, the nature and frequency of those attacks suggests that they are, in large measure, the legacy of decades of demonisation of the Orange Order by those in the republican community.

The other day, on the Oldpark Road — again, in North Belfast — I saw a wooden republican placard of a PSNI officer wearing an Orange collarette, underneath which said, “same old force”. If that is the message that republicans send out to their own community day after day, it is not surprising that people respond to that message by launching attacks on Orange Halls. The removal of such signs would be a positive step towards dealing with the problem. John O’Dowd asked what should be done. That is precisely the sort of action that should be taken.

Danny Kennedy talked about the need for a shared future. That is truly important. A shared future must involve a place for the Orange Order in cultural life. The streets must be spaces that the Orange Order can share with others. Declan O’Loan gave us a stark description of a burned-out Orange Hall in his constituency. Lord Morrow reminded us about how republican terrorists have murdered Orangemen inside Orange Halls or when leaving them. In the early days of the Troubles, an IRA sniper shot down the secretary of a lodge when he was leaving Ligoniel Orange Hall. Subsequently, the hall closed down and the Protestant community moved down the road. Martina Anderson condemned all sectarian attacks; although, as one of my colleagues put it, she sounded like Hans Christian Andersen in doing so. Not everyone shares that particular colleague’s sense of humour.

Pious platitudes will not suffice on this matter. I draw attention to the point that was made by Mr Newton, who told of a Sinn Féin parade that took place in Belfast several weeks ago — in the centre of a shared city — during which IRA terrorists were glorified and were depicted on Sinn Féin banners. Those are the type of issues that must be dealt with and where changes must be made.

The Orange Order faces a legacy of decades of demonisation, which had justified sectarian attacks in the minds of republicans. That is expressed in several ways; for example, in republican opposition to Orange parades. The person on the street in that community might well ask himself or herself, “If I oppose the parade of those awful people who I do not want to walk down the road in my area, what is the problem in attacking their hall?” That opposition is also expressed in nationalist criticism of the amount of televised coverage of the Twelfth celebrations. If the Orange Order should not be on television, what is wrong with attacking their hall?

The Orange Order and its culture must be brought in from the margins to the mainstream. That can and must be done in many ways; a good example of which was shown by the Smithsonian Institute’s festival in Washington, in which the Orange Order had a role to play. I also want to commend several schools in the Roman Catholic community, including Abbey Christian Brothers’ Grammar School in Newry, which has invited representatives from the Orange Order to speak to its pupils.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Molloy] in the Chair)

Much work must be done. The Orange Order is happy to take part in that. However, there must be an end to the demonisation of the Orange Order, which only republicans can bring about.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved:

That this Assembly condemns all attacks on Orange Halls and calls on all political parties to use their influence to stop such sectarian attacks.