Friday, April 28, 2006

The Orange Order - a Tradition Betrayed

Now there's a book for the weekend. Quite seriously. At the launch of Rev Brian Kennaway's tome this week David Trimble took the opportunity to express his opinion that elements of Unionism joined forces with the rougher members of the Order to stimulate confrontation and break the Belfast Agreement. I'm no Unionist insider, but I'd say the man's spot-on.

Put any prejudice aside for one moment. At the heart of Orangeism was the desire to uphold the doctrine of post-Reformation Christianity in a predominantly pre-Reformation country. It was an organisation aimed at encouraging men in their faith and their Christian walk and building them up into men able to provide strong, Godly leadership in their families. Fair enough.

Today's flavour of Orangeism east of the Bann is a long cry from the declared tenet that a member is to be "ever abstaining from all uncharitable words, actions or sentiments, towards his Roman Catholic brethren". The fact that I can't see this or the other "Qualifications of an Orangeman" on the Order's website is perhaps an indication of the irrelevance those qualifications have now become.

My father was an Orangeman in the days when Orange parades were like the one I described in a post last September. My father had respect for everyone, and even in his days I think the Order fulfilled a worthwhile purpose. But no more. It's been infested by sectarianism fuelled by Tony Blur's appeasement of Republican terrorists.

That said, there is an active political conspiracy at work in Ireland to malign the Orange Order and stymie the Biblical truths of Reformation theology, many of which are now fully accepted by Catholic churches in mainland Europe (e.g. salvation not by 'works', i.e. anything we say or do, but purely by God's generosity in response to our faith alone).

Groucho Marx once said he'd never want to join any club that would accept him as a member. For my part, I'd never want to be part of anything sectarian, and unfortunately that's what Orangeism has become. It's time the Order either disbanded or applied its true values faithfully to the modern age.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Is peace enough?

According to the Independent Monitoring Commission so openly detested by Sinn Féin, the IRA is 'committed to a peaceful path'.
How committed, I wonder? Not 12 months ago it offered to murder Robert McCartney's killers as some sort of service to the greater good. And that was after a gang of militant Republicans gouged Mr McCartney to a gruesome, drawn-out death in a frenzy of unadulterated bloodlust outside a city pub. So just how committed is the IRA to peaceful means? Given that guerrilla warfare has been the staple of Marxist Irish Republicanism for centuries, healthy scepticism is fully justified at this stage.
The IRA has said it's committed to democracy, but I hope its supporters acknowledge that democracy doesn't always give you what you want, let alone give it quickly. Democracy means finding policies together, and the 'together' bit can be a painfully slow process. Worryingly, there are many Republicans who don't relish this long walk, as witness an HGV trailer parked high in a field next to the Dundalk bypass last week proclaiming in bold letters that Gerry Adams is a British puppet.
On another scale, though, peace is not enough because there has to be a complete acceptance of the rule of law, and that applies to all paramilitary groups and their hangers-on. DIY justice like that considered after the McCartney slaughter has no place in a governed democracy. Neither do so-called 'Community Restorative Justice' schemes which have no government mandate. If anyone accepts democracy and the rule of law, they have to engage in the forming of policies under which the law enforcement agencies operate, and then they have to support that agency to the hilt. No ifs or buts about it.
Peace, you see, is not enough. A full commitment to the laws of the land and the appointed law enforcement agencies north and south of the Irish border is the minimum anyone can expect of a movement dedicated to peace and democracy.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Paisley prepares for the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary conference

"Now let's see: toothbrush, socks, cancelled the milk, sewn the lips ..."

(Hat-tip to UI for the pic).

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Iggy gets a wiggin'

I'm told an event of apocalyptic proportions has rocked Co. Meath. A Church of Ireland rector has helped officiate at a Catholic mass in Drogheda. Did you feel the earth shake? I didn't.

Fr. Iggy O'Donovan (I jest not) has been berated by his Primate, Dr. Seán Brady, and a similar fate has befallen another cheeky monkey, Rev. Michael Graham, who apparently may be feeling the sharp edge of Dr. Robin Eames' tongue at a convenient juncture.

I try to avoid being disrespectful, but this really is a load of old bollocks which has more to do with slavery to church politics than celebrating the outrageous generosity of the God who made us and then bought us back.

At the heart of the whole transubstantiation issue is the question of whether the bread and wine look and taste like bread and wine but are symbols of Jesus' flesh and blood (the Protestant view) or whether the bread and wine look and taste like bread and wine but are transformed spiritually into his actual body (the Catholic view). Now, I can argue the anti-transubstantiation bit as well as any good Prod, but why take our eyes off the ball? It's one for the pub, not for stopping me communing (in the true sense of the word) with my fellow Christians who also follow the man who prayed, "Let them be one, Father".

I'm in good company. Mary McAleese was rapped over the knuckles by Cardinal Desmond Connell for accepting Anglican Communion. What was he worried about? If, for some perverse reason, he thinks Anglican Communion, Methodist Communion or Baptist Communion has no spiritual meaning, then the worst she could have done was to eat some bread and have a drink of wine. Hardly the stuff a good damnation is made of.

However: even though the theological debate is a red herring, Seán's and Robin's imminent response is anything but a non-issue. In fact, it's central to the social healing we need in Ireland. Are we prepared to put honouring our neighbour before upholding silly dogmas dreamt up by power-churchmen in their own pathetic struggle of centuries past?

The man who prayed "Let them be one, Father" knew that the forces of evil prefer to disable from within than to attack from without. It's far more effective.

What honours God is not the pride of lifetime-academic churchmen but the heart of every individual that can see past it to Bigger things.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Happy Easter

Taking a break for a week or so. Whatever you're celebrating this weekend - be it earthly revolution or heavenly revelation - have a good one.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Trimble - a bump along the way

I missed yet another great programme: this time it was "Out in the Cold", an account of the rise and fall of David Trimble, last night on BBC2 (small write-up here).

The striking thing about the 10 years in which Trimble reigned supreme in Unionism (1995 to 2005) was that he was elected leader of the UUP on a 'hardline' ticket as a conservative unionist very much in the old mould of Carson, Craig and, indeed, Paisley. And what a surprise it was when he was the very one to follow Tony Blur into a series of negotiations and 'choreographed' sequences of rapprochement aimed at moving the vast body of Ulster unionism away from the 'what we have we hold' mentality and into partnership with people who had spent 30 years murdering their relatives.

It was indeed a 'seismic shift', and one too seismic to be achieved in 10 years, or even a generation. Trimble fell from power, and from grace, as large swathes of that vast body of unionism switched their support to Ian Paisley's DUP, a party with policies and attitudes well to the right of traditional unionism in Ireland.

In my view, the negative aspects of Trimble's legacy were not that he was thwarted from delivering on the Good Friday Agreement (regrettable though that still is) but that the hasty, fast-track approach espoused almost universally by Downing Street, with Trimble cast as the implementation manager among his own (increasingly sceptical) people, drove ordinary non-sectarian Ulster Protestants into the arms - and the hands - of Ian Paisley who never in his wildest dreams could have imagined such a late-career fillip.

Too much too quickly.

The day will come when a suggestion by a Sinn Féin president that he and the political leader of Ulster Protestants go away for a weekend to understand each other better will be welcomed (and Gerry Adams is to be commended for trying), but that will take time. We already have social and political equality in Northern Ireland - a major step forward. One day, I hope, people's politics will have more to do with their social aspirations than the church their great-great-great-great grandparents attended, and on that day I'm sure we'll look back on David Trimble (and Gerry Adams) as visionaries who tried but who, in David's case, were ahead of their times.

Friday, April 07, 2006

A strange week

It's been a funny old week even by Northern Irish standards. A Prime Ministerial visit and the Denis Donaldson murder, yet the resounding soundbite of the week is Ian Paisley saying his grandchildren would be slapping him in the face (and jumping all over him, and not obeying a word he said). OK, he was talking about his 80th birthday bash, but it just shows what he can let people get away with.
Paisley's party's reluctance to lead a cross-party devolved government is clearly fraying the nerves of the British and Irish governments, and they've set a deadline which they say they'll extend (meaning it's not really a deadline). Anyway, from the utterances at Navan Fort yesterday, if November comes and Paisley's still humming and hawing they'll put Northern Ireland under joint sovereignty. In a carefully weighed response to journalists' questions, twistmeister Tony Blur gave the strongest indication yet of what many, myself included, have believed his true intention to be. Naturally the Taoiseach was smiling because Ian Paisley - the greatest blocker to progress and integration of the British-Irish on this island - is being pushed well and truly up against the wall by his own Prime Minister. I hope the pressure works and Ulster is being run by Ulstermen and women in 2007.
The vicious murder of Denis Donaldson (the Sinn Féin official who was a British mole for 20 years) seems to have shocked no one. In Republican circles, such folk are the lowest of the low, shunned and reviled, yet two things are being overlooked.
One is that, barring the slim possibility of state-sponsored James Bond antics, he was clearly murdered by Republican terrorists. Whether the crime was committed by a breakaway group or by mainstream IRA men acting either under orders from the IRA Army Council or as renegades it can't control, we are reminded that - despite fine words - Republican extremists haven't lost their taste for murder and their own brand of 'restorative justice'. 
The second is that, whatever Donaldson's 'crime' against those who share his culture, death robbed him of the opportunity, in time, to be rehabilitated. His revilers will recoil at that suggestion, yet it is always the aim of a Christian society. We don't have the death penalty (even for murder, let alone assisting constitutional security agencies) because advanced western civilisation is built around the belief that every life is precious and everyone should be given time and space to come to a realisation of the harm done, and make restitution. Obviously, for some, this was too good for Denis.
Yet another life wasted. But we move on. Despite our differing political opinions and cultural preferences, every day brings opportunities to listen, learn and show respect. As the Assembly comes together for what will certainly be a protracted process of to-ing and fro-ing in its efforts to get a cross-party executive most of us can support, I hope Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams in particular can rise above their differences to give us what we all need.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

1916: English mothers wept too

Amid all the hoo-ha about right and wrong ways to commemorate the 1916 Easter Rising, it's easy to let a temptation to MOPEry cloud the fact that, while 80 rebels died (64 killed at arms and 16 executed afterwards) 220 innocent Irish civilians were also killed. I hope they get remembered honorably by everyone.
140 British soldiers were also killed in the insurgency. Traditionally seen as the enemy, the British have never been big beneficiaries of Irish compassion, especially when national independence is being celebrated.
Ninety years on, the English are welcome visitors in Dublin and - as United Irelander pointed out a while back - treasure the Irish culture and way of life. Relations are good. It would be thoughtful and a big step of reconciliation to the British-Irish in Ulster if Irish Nationalists would also commemorate the British who died in the Easter Rising.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Way We Are

No, I've not been listening to trashy 70's musical tracks. Did any of you catch the first episode of Gerry Anderson's new 4-part radio programme on Radio Ulster on Saturday? I missed it, and I wish I hadn't. (Unfortunately it's not available on the web either).
In it, apparently, Gerry has taken 10 ordinary people from different backgrounds in Northern Ireland / Ulster / The Occupied Six Counties and asked them to select their national identity (British / Irish / Northern Irish). No surprises so far. Except: inspired by the Desmond Tutu "Facing the Truth" TV programme and the extent to which people can move towards each other when they talk (something Gerry says there's too little of), the people are encouraged to talk to each other about the more uncomfortable aspects of their personal identity and - here's the thing - choose their identity again at the end of proceedings.
And that's why I'm sick as a parrot at missing this radio show. Because Gerry says there was a stunning shift. I can hazard a confident guess at what the shift may have been, but I'd love to hear from you if you heard the show. (For the record, I bet both British and Irish camps converged to a notable degree on 'Northern Irish'). You tell me if I'm right.
If you didn't hear the show, however, have a read of this great 'pre show' article by Gerry in the Belfast Telegraph. It's a cracker.