I took part in a BBC TalkBack debate with Rev Brian Kennaway on March 18 around the issues raised in his letters published in the Newsletter pertaining to the Orange Order.
It was, from the very beginning, abundantly clear that Rev Kennaway was- for what purpose I am not entirely sure- flying a kite.
Perhaps Rev Kennaway is genuinely trying to stimulate discussion but I tend to lean more towards an attempt to assist in laying the ground for a capitulation of the Orange Order’s long held position of refusing to talk to Sinn Fein.
What was most surprising was that the Orange Order’s representative on Radio Ulster- David Hume- appeared to be subtly putting the feelers out to the grassroots around the potential for a monumental shift in Orange Order policy in relation to talks with Sinn Fein. Mr Hume clearly caught the kite floated by Rev Kennaway.
David Hume suggested that a statement of remorse from Sinn Fein may help towards a shift in Orange Order policy. The pragmatic reality is that Mr Hume was using the discussion ignited by Brian Kennaway to float- primarily to Orange Order grassroots members- possible conditions that would allow the Order to engage in talks with Sinn Fein.
I doubt Rev Kennaway and the Orange Order are working hand in glove in this obvious kite flying exercise, but regardless of who is pulling the strings, the anticipated outcome is the same.
The opposition to parading in Northern Ireland was created by a carefully crafted Sinn Fein strategy in relation to the setting up of residents groups to agitate against parades.
The whole strategy pivots on an acceptance by residents groups under the control of Sinn Fein, that patience is the key to achieving their ultimate aim of totally eradicating all Unionist parades.
The Sinn Fein controlled residents groups have worked towards slowly chipping away at parading by pocketing every small concession and taking their time- cloaked in flowery language and a false hand of friendship- to destroy every vestige of Unionist culture.
The so called ‘dissident’ groups aren’t as subtle, or sensible. Devoid of any real intelligence or strategy they simply take an overtly sectarian all or nothing approach.
The fact remains that both the dissident resident groups and the Sinn Fein controlled groups have the same objective- the total eradication of parading per se.
The Sinn Fein inspired groups will tell you otherwise, but their relentless attempts to find something new to be offended about gives away the game. They are just much more astute and have the patience to play the long game- pocketing more restrictions on each parade and then coming back looking for yet more restrictions to be imposed.
I am not a member of the Orange Order, but if I was I would be seriously concerned about the notion of negotiating around parades with Sinn Fein. They aren’t reasonable and nor do they want to find a peaceful and lasting solution for all.
Sinn Fein want talks with the Orange Order so that they can extract yet more concessions and surpass another staging post in their war on parading.
The building of an Orange Order- Sinn Fein talks environment is well underway. I would suspect that if not prior to this years marching season, then certainly prior to next years, Sinn Fein will make some form of gesture around expressing remorse for Orangemen murdered by the IRA.
Ten years ago it may have been a stretch to convince the Army Council to give the nod for their surrogates in Sinn Fein to make such a gesture but now- with the Army Council effectively cleansed of dissent- Sinn Fein have a free hand.
Tom Murphy is in jail, others formerly on the Army Council are presumably out of favour following the decision to sanction the execution of Kevin McGuigan and therefore these days Sinn Fein probably control the IRA more than the IRA control Sinn Fein.
In reality the two have- more than ever- morphed into one, which raises all sorts of questions around Sinn Fein’s- DUP approved- continuation in the Executive. That, however, is a matter for a different debate.
Once Sinn Fein have delivered some grand- yet ultimately meaningless- gesture filled with crocodile tears over the IRA murder of Orangemen, then the Orange Order will- without doubt- officially enter talks with Sinn Fein and the residents groups they control.