Beware Orange feet on Dawson Street

31st March 2000

I COME from the town of Arva in County Cavan, a fairly typical Ulster town with a Catholic church at one end of the main street and a Protestant church at the other.

We have two schools, one catholic – one protestant, diplomatically called Arva No 1 School and (you guessed it!) Arva No 2 School. We have a Catholic hall and a Protestant hall. Although the protestant community comprises 10 per cent or so of the population, they play an important role in commercial and community affairs.

We have many visitors, mainly English fishermen, as we are situated in the heart of the lakelands. Many of these visitors have actually moved to the area drawn by the tranquillity and the fairly laid back pace of life. Community relations in Arva are exceptionally good.

But this wasn’t always the way. In the second half of the 1800s and the beginning of the 1900s there was serious sectarian tensions in the Arva area. The local Orange Hall is just half a mile outside the town and each year parades would take place around the Twelfth.

On the Catholic side, the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) and the National Foresters were active. There was also underground activity by the secret societies in the area: the Ribbonmen and the Fenians.

All in all it was a pretty potent cocktail and every year tensions rose and occasionally mob violence would break out. The result was that people and property got damaged.

Orange marches died out in the 1920s and the Catholic organisations disappeared as well. Eventually the vicious sectarianism dissapated. The lesson is that in a divided society everyone is better off without the provocation, despite the much vaunted right to march and demonstrate.

The only major gathering on Arva’s main street now is when Santa comes to town. Only a madman would want to return to the sectarianism of the past but this is what many towns across the border have to put up with every year.

And now the Orangemen are back marching in Dublin. What does it mean and what should we do about it?

Firstly, the Orangemen have a right to march like any other organisation. Pluralism and the constitution demands it.

Pluralism also demands merciless criticism of the Orange Order. This organisation, and its mirror-image the AOH, have no place in the modern world. Their only role is to reinforce the sectarian stalemate in Ireland. The sooner the Orange Order disappears the better.

There is a fear that the Order will use a peaceful march in Dublin to increase pressure for a march down the Garvaghy Road. This should be resisted at all costs.

A drive through Portadown in the summer shows what a hell-hole of sectarianism it is. The competing sides put their flags and emblems and slogans anywhere they can establish territory like a dog pissing up against a lamp-post.

It is an absolutely appalling situation where community relations are almost non-existent and the menace of violence is everywhere.

The Orange Order is one of the main building blocks of this situation and if they had a whit of good will about them they would abandon the march for ever.

The Orangemen should be held up to contempt for the role they play in Irish society and we should focus on how to do that when they march in Dublin again.