Dromore brethren shun extremists

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Dromore Orangemen, from leadership to rank and file, have led condemnation of those who would bring the order and wider unionist culture into disrepute.

At the upper end of the Orange spectrum, Dromore solicitor and Grand Secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, Drew Nelson, roundly condemned July 12 rioting in Belfast and criticised an incident in which a band breached a Parades Commission ruling.

His stance - that of a manknown for efforts to reach out beyond the comfort of established Orange supporters - is understood to reflect unease among far-flung brethren at what they see as tarnishing of the institution’s image by a minority of individuals – some not even members.

Mr Nelson said the Orange Order utterly rejected violence and “people should never resort to it, no matter how frustrated they are”.

Meanwhile, another stalwart Dromore Orangeman, far from leadership circles, said local brethren and the area’s wider unionist community in no way identified with extremes as represented, he said, by the recent appearance of Nazi flags near a Carrickfergus bonfire site.

“My grandfather fought against the Nazis,” he said. “the Nazi flag represents racism and hatred and all the people of Northern Ireland owe their freedom and democratic rights to the sacrifice of thousands of allied soldiers.”

That said, the local Orangeman insisted many aspects of Orange and unionist culture - from bonfires to the Union Flag - were under unjustified attack.

“Every year on July 1,” he said, “I erect the flag outside my house to remember the Battle of the Somme, in which my family members were killed.

“I don’t erect my flag to offend anyone and I usually keep it up until the marching season is over.

“Community groups erect flags and bunting to celebrate their culture; they are not intimidating anyone and the Union flag should never be used as a tool of intimidation.”

The Dromore man said the sense that unionist culture was under attack was itself responsible for the number and size of flags being erected across Northern Ireland.

He also accused many nationalists and republicans of

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double standards over the proliferation of the tricolourand other partisan flags in some areas.

Turning to what he perceives as a concerted campaign against July 11 bonfires, he said: “Instead of Sinn Fein and other republicans complaining on TV and radio about bonfires they should encourage the relevant bodies to provide grant funding to locate bonfires on safer, greenfield sites, with plenty of room and any necessary safety measures.”

Finally, the local Orangeman went as far as to condemn the burning of the Irish tricolour and/or election posters on July 11 bonfires.

Mr Nelson’s comments came against a backdrop of anger from some Orangemen not associated with the north Belfast situation at what they see as the institution’s image being continually tarnished by a minority of individuals – some of whom are not even members of the Order – in the capital city.

Mr Nelson, who has put enormous personal effort into attempting to modernise the institution and reach out to those who would not naturally support Orangeism, spoke bluntly about the band’s actions.

He told the BBC: “The (Parades Commission) determination was wrong but equally the way the band reacted to that determination was also wrong, and the behaviour of that band in appearing to dance in some sort of celebration after they had broken the determination was totally unacceptable. There will be a review of what happened and I imagine that there will be some sort of internal process by Sandy Row District.”

Mr Nelson also blamed “self-appointed agitators” for causing the violence at Woodvale and Twaddell. He said some individuals “engage in violence on the back of our parades” and that in so doing they “undermine our cause and our ability to have parades”.

Mr Nelson offered no excuses for what had taken place and said that the police would have the full support of the Order in investigating “any illegality” associated with the north Belfast rioting.

He said the Order utterly rejected violence and “people should never resort to it no matter how frustrated they are”.

He also expressed sympathy for those injured, specifically police officers, those hit by the car driven into a crowd at Ardoyne and the pipe band which saw its bus attacked by republicans in Greysteel.