For the second Twelfth in a row, the Orange Order shows leadership

News Letter editorial of Friday July 9 2021:

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

Last year on Twelfth, the Orange Order responded in a responsible way to the Twelfth.

Lockdown was beginning to ease in Northern Ireland and Covid case numbers were falling rapidly.

Unlike republicans at the beginning of that month, who flagrantly engaged in a mass breach of social distancing for the Bobby Storey funeral, the loyal orders were careful not to bring thousands of people on to the streets.

The ‘Twelfth at Home’ theme was widely observed and only a handful of very small parades took place.

The surge in coronavirus cases across the Province in the autumn vindicated the Order’s prudent approach.

This year, the successful rollout of the UK vaccination programme means that Northern Ireland is in a much better place in terms of the pandemic than it was last year.

In England, July 19 is ‘freedom day’ from Covid restrictions, but in NI — regrettably — Sinn Fein is pushing for a slower reopening.

Despite this, there will be a further easing of lockdown on July 26. Even so, the Orange Order is for the second year keeping careful limits on its Twelfth celebrations. There will be 100 or so local parades, instead of 18 large demonstrations.

Setting the tone, the order’s Grand Master Edward Stevenson said: “We have endured a difficult 18 months, having cancelled our meetings and parades, for the good of all in the community.”

The smaller demonstrations, he added, would help reduce crowds and put safety to the fore.

This is a display of leadership at a time when there are ongoing health fears about the risks of transmission among large gatherings of people.

The government in London is experimenting with allowing large gatherings but that is in controlled venues, so the Orange Order is right not to take upon its own shoulders the burden of experimentation in crowd risks.

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