1. The Orange Order uses its flimsy links with religion as a veil for its embarrassing core parts, which are anti-nationalist and anti-Catholic. The organisation’s origins at the end of 18th century and its history since then make this clear – it’s a catalogue of Orange mobs attacking Catholic areas. Its rules – no Catholics, no spouses of Catholics, no attending Catholic religious ceremonies, Catholicism = Popish idolatry, heathen practice of the Mass – show little sign of Christianity. Its 2,000+ marches every year, celebrating the defeat of Catholicism/nationalism at the hands of Protestantism/unionism, add not a lot to reconciliation and healing.
2. The slump in its membership can’t, as Drew Nelson has suggested, be explained away by the advance of secularism. It can be explained in two words: ‘Harryville’ and ‘Drumcree’. These two conflict-points showed the world the ugly face of the Order and a lot of decent unionists withdrew in disgust. The subsequent defeat of bigotry at both places alienated the opposite end of Orangeism – the hard-core that had hoped the Order would be the traditional vehicle for its prejudices. When feet didn’t walk on Garvaghy Road and when Catholics continued to attend Mass at Harryville, the out-and-outers walked away.
3. To sound an effective rallying call, the Order needs an ‘anti-Protestant’ opposition to justify its continued existence. The fact is that it’s not getting it – nationalists, even when provoked by some marches, continue to show remarkable restraint. Which leaves the bigotry that’s at the heart of the Orange Order punching the air. That’s an exhausting and ultimately futile activity.