Orangemen just want a peaceful Twelfth

Picture by Matt Mackey/' - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 1st July 2011.''Raymond McMichael from Ballymacarret lodge.
Picture by Matt Mackey/' - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 1st July 2011.''Raymond McMichael from Ballymacarret lodge.
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WHEN unrest occurs around the Twelfth period and marching season, the very last people who want to see it are the Orange Order.

As Raymond McMichael, deputy district master of Ballymacarrett in east Belfast, explains, having to worry about the threat of rising tensions is a major headache for lodges, when they are already trying to organise and oversee the biggest event on their calendar.

“We have 30 something lodges in the ( Ballymacarrett) district,” he says.

“We do play our part with local community groups and so on - we play our part with the police very much so,” he adds, explaining that members are keen to support both the PSNI and Belfast City Council in preventing the consumption of alcohol on the parade route at various Orange marches, and indeed seizing drink from offenders.

“We are not against people going out and enjoying themselves but they can do that once the parade is over. It’s an image that we don’t want,” he stresses.

He also says the Order will erect toilets in an effort to deter people from urinating publicly, as sometimes happens at parades, to the massive annoyance of local residents.

And he admits that “after the tensions of last week in the east of the city that’s very much our focus at the present time - that we don’t want any (trouble).”

He adds: “You do worry about it, you do worry that everything’s going to go off and when it comes to the end of the night and everything passes off peacefully and you have no incidents it’s a great relief.”

Ugly scenes of disorder also have a negative effect on the Orange and bandsmen themselves.

Raymond agrees that if such trouble is inadvertently linked to their organisations, it lowers morale.

“Absolutely,” he says of such a scenario.

“It’s something that we as an institution - and I’m talking about the whole of the Orange family - don’t want. We don’t want anything to do with it. We just want to go out and celebrate our culture and we don’t want anyone to take offence to it.”

It’s also up to leaders in the Order such as Raymond to shoulder the responsibility of making sure their men don’t let the organisation down by responding to any disorder.

“We do try to keep it upbeat; we do say to our members who are on parade not to be provoked in any way, no retaliation, we make that very, very clear.”

He adds: “It’s just a worrying time, but we do take our responsibilities seriously.”

Pomeroy Orangeman Richard Reid is someone who knows only too well what it’s like to be directly affected by troublemakers during the marching season.

He has been a member of Pomeroy True Blues Loyal Orange Lodge 293 for 25 years and is its former deputy master.

Together with another lodge, it shared Bonn Orange Hall, a building which existed in the small, mainly nationalist, Co Tyrone village for “close on 100 years.”

But last summer it was completely destroyed in an arson attack, in what was believed to be a follow on incident from a similar one the previous November.

Like many of Ulster’s orange halls, often targeted in sectarian attacks, it survived the odd skirmish over the years.

But the most recent incident totally destroyed it, and Richard says it’s now being completely rebuilt, with hopes that it will open its doors once more by this time next year.

“It was a building that kept having to be renovated and renewed and repaired and updated,” he says, adding that around 80 lodge members in total used it as their base, as well as many members of the local community.

“If anyone was running a function in the community and needed a venue, the hall was at their disposal, whether that was a youth organisation, church, visiting preachers for missions etc.”

Richard claims that there is increased tension in the area around the Twelfth “because the Protestant community is shown a great deal of antagonism by a section of the nationalist community.”

Certainly whatever the cause of the unease, the result is increased inconvenience for the local lodges here, as well as financial cost.

“We had to move to halls three or four miles away, and we had to use a church hall which was freely granted to us,” says Richard.

“Also, we had use of the community hall within the school.”

And whilst being ever grateful for the support the lodges received from the community, he explains that because they became “tenants”, they “didn’t have the freedom to do as we wanted.”

The actual physical cost to the lodges of having to rebuild their ‘home’ is another burden they have had to carry.

“The estimated value of replacement, as opposed to the valuation we received from the compensations agency - you could be looking somewhere between £80-100,000,” says Richard.

It is a high price to pay, in more ways than one.