The Orange Order is a Protestant fraternal organisation based in Belfast, Northern Ireland.It has similarities with freemasonry, such as such as the organisation of the Order into lodges and the fact that the Order has a system of degrees through which new members advance. The name comes from William III, Prince of Orange, won a crushing victory at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, which secured the Protestant ascendancy in Ireland for generations. It retains huge symbolic importance in Northern Ireland, where it is celebrated by the Orange Order every 12th July.The Orange Order website claims it still has relevance today; “defending Protestantism is not so literal as it was in 1795, but it requires us to take a stand for truth in an age of secularism and in order to defend our culture and traditions.
The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland was established in 1798.

The 12th July parade is very much part of the Orange tradition and heritage, though plenty of people, especially (unsurprisingly) from the Catholic community are upset that it takes place at all.An extra 630 police officers were drafted in yesterday in readiness for disturbances.The Orange Order claim they just want the freedom to follow the traditional routes. Parade routes they say are not picked to cause offence, but by and large are main arterial routes along which successive generations of Orangemen have peacefully paraded..In previous years, violent clashes have been so bad that a Parades Commission was established to pre-empt trouble and dictate where the parade can go. The Orangemen claim that what the parade organisers have no control over is those who desire to be offended and often travel great distances to achieve that objective.Roman Catholics claim that they are intimidated by the Orange Order. They see the marches as triumphalist and sectarian and have real issues with some traditional Orange routes passing through or past areas occupied mainly by Catholics and nationalists.

This year again saw rioting which seems to have kicked off because of a contentious ruling on where the march could go. Orange Order lodges in north Belfast, marched past the Ardoyne (a known flashpoint) shops on Friday morning but the Parades Commission banned them from returning by the same route in the evening. The ruling was that on their return, lodges would be stopped at the junction of Woodvale Road and Woodvale Parade. The police blocked the road, clashes developed resulting in more than 30 police officers and MP Nigel Dodds being injured during six hours of rioting. Water cannon and baton rounds were used after a sustained attack on police who were attacked with ceremonial swords as well as missiles. Later on Friday night, police were attacked with petrol bombs.

On the face of it, the parade, if, as the Orange Order claims, its aims are peaceful and traditional, shouldn’t be a problem. A radio discussion prompted many Irish Catholics saying they felt intimidated by the parade and said they ought simply to plan a route avoiding Catholic areas. Meanwhile, the order’s grand master, Edward Stevenson, said Protestants were facing an almost daily onslaught on their British heritage and culture.He said, “Republicans are engaging in a cultural war to erode all symbols of Britishness.The shameful decision to strip down the union flag from Belfast City Hall, following on from the outrageous naming of a children’s play park in Newry after an IRA terrorist, are just some examples of the so-called ‘shared future’ envisaged by Sinn Féin.”

However for the peace process to continue in Northern Ireland both Unionists (orange-men) and Republicans need to compromise;this must extend to all areas of their political,social and religious lives. Both sides should cease to march for an agreed period, possibly 10 or 15 years, this would then allow the current generation of school children to grow up without the fear of death at the hands of either sides’ terrorist factions. Before this happens the dozens of miles of peace walls must come down, it’s 24 years since the Berlin wall came down, yet since the signing of the Good Friday peace accord in 1998 these walls have grown in height and length,thus dividing the two communities and increasing the internecine vindictiveness that the Orange Marches symbolise.