Public debate muted on axing Order’s Catholic church ban

An Orange Order parade in Portadown, Co Armagh. Picture: Mark Marlow/pacemaker press
An Orange Order parade in Portadown, Co Armagh. Picture: Mark Marlow/pacemaker press

Orange Order members in favour of maintaining the ban on attending Catholic church services have largely declined the opportunity to publicly defend their stance.

Whilst a number of high-profile Orangemen have expressed their personal desire to see the controversial rule repealed, those opposed to a change appear to favour an in-house discussion only.

Unsuccessful attempts were made by the News Letter to contact several members of the Order believed to be in favour of retaining the ban.

The BBC also reported on Thursday that while a number of well-known Order members said they supported a rule change, none of those approached agreed to be quoted.

The latest debate was sparked on Wednesday when Belfast grand chaplain Rev Mervyn Gibson said he thought the ban was “harked back to a different era”.

However Rev Gibson, who is also an assistant grand master of the Institution, said he would not initiate any change himself on such a potentially divisive issue.

“Can you imagine how members, who missed family events because of that rule, how are they going to feel if it gets changed...it is quite an emotive issue,” he said.

Orange Order members Tom Elliott MP and Danny Kennedy MLA faced disciplinary action in 2011 for attending the funeral of murdered PSNI officer Ronan Kerr.

On Thursday, both re-stated their belief that the Order should consider lifting the ban, although they stressed that change must come from within the organisation when the members decide it is appropriate.

Ulster Unionist Mr Kennedy said “a sensible approach was taken” when both he and his party colleague were ultimately cleared of breaching the rules.

“Those are matters for the internal management of the Orange Institution and its processes, and indeed this decision [on a rule change] will rest within the Orange Institution. It’s not going to change through a public campaign,” he said.

Asked if a process of change was under way, Mr Kennedy said: “The Orange Order, like any institution, takes its own time to deal with certain issues. I think it is best for the Orange Order to be left to carefully consider it and ultimately take its decision – hopefully a positive decision to change [the rule],” he told BBC Evening Extra.

Leading Orangeman, and former culture minister, Nelson McCausland said that anything he would be saying about the matter would be “within the Orange Order” and not in the media, while an Orange Order spokesman said the issue was an “internal matter” for the Institution.