A NEW initiative by the Orange Order in Northern Ireland, intended to reach out to the wider community, and improve relations, has been completed.
The cross-community report Audit, Good Relations Strategy and Action Plan has been presented to the Secretary of State for the Province, Theresa Villiers, and the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charles Flanagan.
The report, commissioned by County Fermanagh Grand Orange Lodge and conducted last year, is the first of its kind. More than 600 members of the Loyal Order in Fermanagh, and a significant representation of people from across the community, took part in the extensive information-gathering exercise. It took a year to complete.
Seventy-seven per cent of the Order’s membership involved in the report and audit identified themselves as members of the Church of Ireland.
Issues included community relationships between the 2000 members of the Order in the border county and with their Roman Catholic/Nationalist neighbours; the contentious issues surrounding parades; Orange Halls; and the history and reasoning of the Order. There was an acknowledgement, internally and externally, that the Order in Fermanagh was a different type of organisation to others “east of the Bann” (Belfast in particular).
Recommendations for action are organised across five key areas: communication and information; networking and relationships; community engagement; arts; culture and tourism; and leadership and organisational capacity
The Order sought to dispel the belief that it is anti-Roman Catholic, although 75 per cent of respondents believed that they should work harder to make the organisation better understood by the wider community.
Many expressed hostility to the Gaelic Athletic Association, which they perceived as offering, or having offered in the past, tacit support to the IRA. Some 66 per cent believe that the Order has an important part to play in Northern Ireland.
Ms Villiers welcomed the report. It would, she said, “stimulate discussion on the role that the organisation can play as part of wider society in Northern Ireland, and help provide a greater understanding of the Orange Institution’s ethos and tradition. . .
“It will also help create the circumstances which allow its membership to take steps to address the many challenging viewpoints of the order that are borne out in the audit findings. All of this will help develop better relationships and understanding between different parts of the community in County Fermanagh.”
Mr Flanagan said that he welcomed the publication of the report. “It is a very positive step forward, and I want to commend and congratulate all involved in Fermanagh for leading by example, and working to build greater trust and respect across all strands of the community.”
The Grand Master of the County Fermanagh Grand Orange Lodge, Stuart Brooker, said that the project would form a basis for the institution’s continuing outreach with the wider community.
“This is a ground-breaking report,” he said, “which challenges many assumptions, views, and perceptions about the Orange Order, from both the wider public and the members. We hope it will be of great interest, not only to those who hold the institution dear to their hearts, but also to people who are suspicious — even hostile — to the Orange Order.”
The Bishop of Clogher, the Rt Revd John McDowell, has welcomed the Orange Order’s initiative in his diocese: “I hope the publication of the audit will mark a new beginning in the process of mutual understanding and discovery between all community organisations and individuals who have the well-being of County Fermanagh at heart.”