The proposal set forward by Paul Givan (DUP) to present the Orange Order with the Freedom of Lisburn has been met with opposition from both Sinn Fein and Alliance – but still passed the first stage (with 18 votes to 8) of the motion which will now pass directly to the Corporate Services Committee to face further equality screening.
Prominent local political website Slugger O’Toole reported first hand from the council meeting, stating:
Givan also highlighted that individual lodges as well as districts carry out extensive fund-raising that benefits all sections of the community. He saw the Orange Order as “part of the fabric of our community … as we try to build a shared community”.
Activities that the Orange Order is better known for – e.g., the erection of arches, blocking of traffic, hiring of bands, fighting for religious freedoms – were not mentioned by Givan as he explained the context for his motion.
The justifications put forward by DUP Councillor Givan for the proposal were outlined on the DUP website prior to the meeting – which can be seen in full here – and included: (verbatim)
- There are over 600 Orange Halls in Northern Ireland, with the vast majority playing host to a range of community and voluntary activity
- Orange Halls are often the hub for community activity
- The Orange Institution is the largest community and voluntary organisation in Northern Ireland and highlighting this aspect of the Institution’s activities can hopefully help build understanding and tolerance in our society
- The Orange Institution has played a very important role in our history, and its members continue to be central to the life of our community today
In opposition to the motion, Sinn Fein’s Arthur Carson was quoted as saying “The anti-Catholic stance in terms of membership, the refusal to engage with residents groups over parades, expelling members who attend Catholic services – these are all big issues that the Orange Order need to take into consideration”.
It will be disputed if the Orange Order meets the precedents set forth by the equality screening process – but it is certain that equality is a word that is not usually associated with the organisation. In its current state the Orange Order’s membership is not open to non-Christians or Catholics; it is firmly Protestant – and therefore fundamentally divisive – in nature. It is neither religiously or politically neutral. This has led to wishes for the Order to reform before any acceptance of this proposal would be possible.
Alliance’s Brian Dornan stated “Seeking to confer the freedom of the city on the Orange Order is not justified at this time. While the Order remains politically active with a restricted membership not enjoying widespread community support, it is inappropriate for Lisburn City Council to bestow our highest civic honour on them”
Although none of the SDLP councillors were in attendance at the meeting on the night, the Newsletter reported that the party’s councillor Brian Heading said:
“The SDLP opposes the motion to grant the freedom of Lisburn to the Orange Order on the grounds that the Orange institutions have failed to show that they can offer a shared future to all the residents of not only Lisburn but also the north.
“Last weekend’s events in North Belfast show that the Orange institutions have some way to go to prove to a large section of the community that the law and the rights and feelings of residents will be respected.”
Other factors that have been disputed include the cost of the event – reported as up to £50, 000 – for the subsequent parade and celebration that usually succeeds the ‘Freedom’ ceremony, and the events of the last Orange Order marches that ended up in violence after clashes with the police. Alongside the argument from opposition that other organisations (some mentioned included the GAA and local churches) would also meet the criteria being used to judge the proposal, means that the Orange Order faces tough questions that it may, or may not, wish to account for.