The Loyal Orange Institution was formed in September 1795 and some ten months later it held its first Boyne Commemoration Parade on 12th July 1796.
Parades therefore are very much part of the Orange tradition and heritage as two hundred years ago the founding fathers decided that parades were an appropriate medium to witness for their faith and to celebrate their cultural heritage. However the concept of parades by the community that gave birth to the Orange Institution was well established long before 1796 and it is a matter of historical record that parades were a feature of that community for many years prior to the formation of the Orange Institution.
The Protestant community is not in any way unique in that aspect. People the world over love to parade. There is a seemingly endless list of parades throughout the world ranging from the Carnival in Rio through Mardi Gras in New Orleans 4th July across the United States of America, Bastille Day in France, St. Patrick's Day in Dublin and New York to the Lord Mayor's Show in London.
There are a number of inherent factors behind the organising of Orange Parades.
They are a witness for our faith and this is evidenced by parades to and from public worship.
Orange Parades are commemorative. Various events in the history of the people are commemorated by parades that take different forms. These range from the solemn remembrance of the fallen at the Somme to the cultural extravaganza that is the 12th of July commemorating the Glorious Revolution secured at the Battle of the Boyne. Those who glibly dismiss the Boyne Commemorations would do well to think of the benefits that flowed from the Glorious Revolution.
The Bill of Rights of 1689, the Triennial Act of 1694 and The Freedom of the Press Act 1695 are, among others, surely worth commemorating.
The parades are a glorious display of pageantry. The colour of the collarette or sash, the uniforms of the bands and the beautiful paintings on the banners combine to make an Orange Parade a visual kaleidoscope.
The Flags and Banners are full of religious, cultural, and political symbolism depicting, biblical scenes, famous people or events in history and in themselves portray the rich cultural heritage of our people in picture form.
The music provided by the accompanying bands is of a very high standard and you will find countless competition bands including world champions in the ranks, of flute, brass, accordion, and pipe bands participating in Orange Parades. Of course you will also find, particularly in rural areas, the instrument that in many peoples minds is synonymous with Orangeism - the Lambeg Drum.
Orange Parades follow traditional routes. Parade routes are not picked to cause offence, but by and large are main arterial routes along which successive generations of Orangemen have peacefully paraded. What the parade organisers have no control over is those who desire to be offended and often travel great distances to achieve that objective. It has been shown that even travelling by bus past certain areas is sufficient for some people to attack those of our tradition.
These people despite the terminology they employ have no interest in "parity of esteem" or recognition of the traditions and heritage of others.
The Orange Institution has a responsible attitude to parades witnessed by its own stewarding arrangements and it is a matter of historical record that some Lodges for a variety of reasons (including those of security) have changed the pattern of parades - this is one of the reasons for the "Mini 12th" Parades in Belfast.
One important aspect of Orange Parades that is conveniently ignored by some people is that they are organised locally by Orangemen in the general area.
When an attempt is made to prevent a peaceful parade it therefore follows that it is not just an attack on the legitimate traditions and culture of a people and a denial of basic civil liberties but it is an offence against local people within the community. That however will not affect the thinking of those who believe that the way to understand a different tradition or culture is to remove it.
The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland was correct in its Press Release of 6th July 1995 when it stated:-
"The way to improve community relations cannot be achieved through a repression of a legitimate expression of a culture.
In this context it is correct to allow all traditional routes, and all the more so, if these involve the use of a main thoroughfare".
The simple truth of the matter is that the attempts to prevent parades along certain routes has nothing at all to do with the actual parade but an attack on all that the parade and its participants represent and believe in.
Regretfully some in authority have decided to appease those who would break the law and deny basic civil liberties to law abiding citizens.
In the statement of 6th July the Grand Lodge went on to say:-
"The threat of violence by one group should never be used as an excuse to stop a legitimate parade by law-abiding people".
Orangemen have proven that they can parade in a peaceful dignified manner and have complied with the legal requirement for organising a parade.
Surely there is something wrong with legislation or the interpretation of legislation when peaceful activity can be prevented by the threat of violence by another group. Going down that road leads to anarchy. The perception is that the authorities clamp down on Orange parades as part of a policy of appeasement.
The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland has stated the determination of its members "to stand fast by their legal rights. The members of the Order are on the side of tolerance and are upholders of peace but to surrender their liberties and rights would in the long run result in greater disorder".
In a democratic society there must be the right to peaceful procession by law abiding citizens along traditional routes. That right obviously brings responsibilities. We are willing to meet those responsibilities but we demand our basic rights.
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