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Northern Ireland Assembly

Tuesday 24 October 2000 (continued)

Dr O'Hagan:

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. My initial reaction on seeing this motion was that maybe it had some merit. Exposure to wider civic society and to a diversity of people and views might help to open some minds. On reflection, the reality is that the Orange Order is beyond redemption in this regard.

There are any number of groups, many of them of a much more benign and positive nature, who could ask for special treatment. Why should the Orange Order be given special treatment on the Civic Forum, especially given the nature of that organisation? For centuries, the Orange Order has had an undue and malign influence throughout society in the North of Ireland - in Unionist political parties, the judiciary, the police force and in business. These are positions of power and influence. How many members of the Civic Forum are already members of the Orange Order? Indeed, how many Members of this Assembly are members of the Orange Order?

The Orange Order is a sectarian and racist organisation. This motion is akin to asking the Ku Klux Klan to make a positive contribution to American society. It is very telling that, last year, a Ku Klux Klan spokesman stated that his organisation was concerned at being compared with the Orange Order. The Orange Order's raison d'être is to keep Fenians in their place. I will not go into the history of its bloody birth at the Battle of the Diamond, or the widespread disruption, murder and mayhem that have accompanied Orange marches and parades ever since. Everyone in Ireland, especially on the Garvaghy and Ormeau Roads, and throughout the world, knows only too well the Orange Order's negative and malign influence.

For example, who will forget the disgraceful scenes at an Orange Order parade on the Ormeau Road when participants laughed, jeered and celebrated the murder of five people from the local community in Sean P Graham's bookmaker's shop? Who could ever tolerate the ongoing brutalisation and intimidation of the Garvaghy Road community in Portadown in order to facilitate a swaggering, triumphalist Orange Order parade through an inoffensive minority community?

The Good Friday Agreement and its institutions, including the Civic Forum, are supposed to be about a new way of organising society - not a mere replication of the old, failed ways of the past. Members of the Orange Order have no positive contribution to make to the Civic Forum. It is a secret society. It is not just any old benign secret society whose members wear funny hats, carry swords and engage in strange rituals, although members of the Orange Order undoubtedly do all of those things. The Orange Order is a sectarian and racist organisation founded on hatred of anything Catholic or Irish. It is an organisation that foments and fosters inequality and division in our society. One only has to read some of the words of Orange tunes - "We're up to our necks in Fenian blood. Surrender or you'll die." - to see how offensive the Orange Order and its philosophy are.

This motion has more to do with the divisions in Unionism and the DUP's attempts to show how much more Unionist it is. The hypocrisy of this motion is appalling, although it is what we have come to expect from the DUP in this Assembly. It is appalling because the Orange Order, with the help of loyalist paramilitaries, has succeeded in tearing civic society apart for the last five years in their futile and dangerous attempt to march along the Garvaghy Road.

The Orange Order refuses to speak to those who disagree with it. Not only do its members refuse to talk to Nationalist residents and their chosen representatives, but they also refuse to talk to the Northern Ireland Parades Commission. The DUP puts down a motion asking for special and preferential treatment for such an organisation -

Madam Deputy Speaker:

The Member will draw her remarks to a close.

Dr O'Hagan:

It is time for elements within Unionism to realise that "the times they are a-changin". The time for propping up bigotry and sectarianism and making it respectable is over.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

Time is up.

Dr O'Hagan:

Move into the modern world. We should be discussing ways of ridding our society of sectarianism, instead of trying -

Madam Deputy Speaker:

Time is up. Order.

2.30 pm

Mr Boyd:

The decision to exclude the Orange Order from membership of the Civic Forum demonstrates a bias against the huge section of the Protestant community that belongs to that organisation. It graphically illustrates that the Civic Forum lacks credibility and that its apparent inclusivity extends - with a few exceptions - only to those people who follow the Government's pro-agreement line. It is clear that despite the Orange Order's huge membership - and I have no apology for being a member - it has been excluded because of its opposition to the Belfast Agreement. What other reason can there be for excluding it from membership of the Civic Forum?

There are people who try to demonise the Orange Order, and we have just heard five minutes of sheer black propaganda. I want to counter that with the truth about the Orange Order. The Orange Order has, from its earliest beginnings, given leadership at all levels of society. It is a Christian organisation and has included in its membership ministers of religion, bishops, moderators, mayors, councillors, politicians and even the First Minister. It would be interesting to know whether the previous speaker is now accusing the First Minister of racism. Members can be found serving their community in all walks of life. The Orange Order has members both male and female, young and old, in many countries including England, Scotland, Wales, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Togo, Ghana and the USA.

Traditionally the Orange Order is seen as a marching organisation. Much work goes on unseen, such as caring for orphans and supporting widows. The Orange Order has also supported numerous good causes including hospitals and hospices, as well as a multitude of charities and missions. That is in addition to individual contributions by many members.

More recently the Orange Order has embarked on aid to churches in Eastern Europe and support for modern communication of the gospel overseas. The Orange Order has been encouraging young people, through bursaries, to develop their own business, commercial and industrial skills in order to improve the economy of Northern Ireland - unlike Sinn Féin/IRA, which for 30 years has terrorised this community, attacking over 250 Orange halls and destroying many businesses.

The Orange Order stands for civil and religious liberties for all and is committed to Christian principles and the gospel message. The Orange Order's ideals are far above any that the so-called Civic Forum may have or claim to stand for. The Civic Forum lacks credibility, as it does not truly reflect civic society and is not inclusive. The Orange Order will continue to prosper and stand firm for its principles, as it has done for many years, while the Civic Forum will, I suggest, last only a matter of weeks.

Mr Watson:

There seems to be some misunderstanding among Members of why the Orange Order wishes to have a place in the Civic Forum, given its opposition to the Belfast Agreement. I remind Members that on 12 July 1998 we stated from all Orange Order platforms our resolution that

"We must all do what we can to help make this country well-governed, fair, just, peaceful and prosperous . Positive participation in the Assembly will ensure that the full strength of Unionism is concentrated in every debate, discussion and decision taken at Stormont."

In the 'Orange Standard' of that month, the editorial comment read

"The situation being as it is, it is imperative that every effort be made to make the Assembly work to the advantage of all the people - that we get good government, fair and just treatment for everyone, regardless of class, creed or race in what is becoming a multi-racial society."

I have listened with interest to the debate. Sadly, one of the Members for Upper Bann is not present in the Chamber. I was saddened to listen to Ms Hanna's comments earlier. Clearly, no account has been taken of the fact that the Orange Order is one of the largest organisations in Northern Ireland and certainly encompasses all shades of Unionism.

It is well and good for the First Minister, when he announced his nominations, and for Mr Richard Monteith, who is a solicitor acting on behalf of Portadown District. On that occasion the First Minister attempted to justify the appointment of Mr Monteith as a back-door representation for the Order. However, it is quite plain that Mr Monteith is there in his own capacity as a member of the Civic Forum. He cannot speak on behalf of the Orange Order because he is not a member of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland.

The Orange Institution will not be sneaking in through the back door of this Forum as if it is in some sort of shame. The Orange Institution deserves and should be afforded official representation. At the time of the nominations the First Minister assured us that each of the three nominations he made was

"specifically to ensure that balance and inclusion did occur."

There can be no balance and inclusion when the epitome of Protestant culture and heritage is omitted from the list.

Contrary to what Carmel Hanna said, the Orange Institution did go through the proper channels. When we approached the Office of the First Minister we were told how to apply, and I am aware of at least two members of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland who applied for positions on the Civic Forum and were unsuccessful. I understand that there are two members of the Civic Forum who may be members of the Orange Institution - and we congratulate them on their appointment - but they are not there to represent the views of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland.

Even the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has recognised on numerous occasions that the Orange Order is important in the community and has a role to play in the civic society of Northern Ireland. It is widely acknowledged, even by those opposed to the Orange Order and by Members of the House, that the Order is the largest social provider in the Protestant community. Many community audits clearly show how important Orange halls are to the life of our local communities, often forming the heart of them. Community audits recognise that, but unfortunately the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister choose to ignore it.

The Orange Order is saddened that it does not have a place on the Civic Forum. It has been subject to the worst kind of black propaganda and we have listened to it here again today. It is equalled only by the vilification of the RUC. The political process has attempted to make the Orange Order and its members distasteful to the wider public. Our institution has been reviled and maligned by misinformation and misrepresentation by those who know nothing about its make-up or its principles and, worse still, by those who do.

The Orange Order should have the right to speak. It is owed the right to reply. It deserves the chance to have its voice heard, and apparently the place to do so is the Civic Forum. This morning the Orange Order received a letter from Downing Street. The content clearly states the Prime Minister's position in relation to our institution.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

The Member will please draw his remarks to a close.

Mr Watson:

The Prime Minister acknowledges "the contribution the Grand Orange Lodge makes to Northern Ireland society."

Madam Deputy Speaker:

Time up.

Mr Ervine:

I rise with some reluctance to speak on this issue. I am a member of the Protestant community; I am not a member of the Orange Order, but many members of my party are. If they had been listening in the Chamber today, they would have felt insulted on two counts, and probably more.

One severely unbalanced comment - one of the most sectarian comments that I have ever heard in the Chamber - was made by the Member for Upper Bann, Dara O'Hagan. It is insulting for her simply to write off, in the manner that she did, those whom she does not understand or disagrees with, whether or not those people will talk to her. That in itself is sectarian. To some degree she is right to chastise the DUP for carrying the cudgel on behalf of the Orange Order, but considering her political requirements it is somewhat hypocritical.

It might be worth pointing out that the leader of the PUP, Cllr Hugh Smyth OBE, has been a member of the Orange Order for more than 50 years. When the Orange Order declared itself to be anti-agreement, no one asked him for his opinion. No one asked anyone in his Lodge for their opinion. The Grand Master of the Orange Lodge, a decent man who I know very well, stood with political forces arrayed against the Good Friday Agreement. I feel that, tragically, as we approached the referendum day and stood hand in hand, he changed the context of the Orange Order as I had always understood it.

However, as I did not move in the hallowed halls of power or in the halls of justice and just lived in the streets of Belfast, I have no sense of anger, hurt or frustration towards the Orange Order. I feel a sense of affinity and appreciation, because its members lived in my home, lived next door to me and lived in the next street - I associated with them all day, every day. The suggestion that there was manipulation in our society in the past resonates with me, but it has to be placed on record that one side has simply castigated and vilified the Orange Order without realising the decency and integrity of the ordinary people who are members of it. At the same time, the only hope that this society has for its future has been vilified, without the membership of the Orange Order - who undoubtedly disagree in large numbers with the leadership - being questioned, debated with and consulted.

I would welcome the Orange Order having membership of the Civic Forum, but the Orange Order has a responsibility to define its political and religious outlooks. Peter Weir described it as a group with great political significance, but he should have said that it has great social significance. He described it as a political organisation. All those who are not members have a big fear about the manipulation of the Orange Order.

Ms McWilliams:

Until Mr Watson spoke I was confused about the procedures that the Orange Order had followed to ensure that it had seats on the Civic Forum. That point needs to be addressed in the debate, although I am pleased to hear that its participation has been enthusiastically followed. During the negotiations I put forward the idea of a Civic Forum, and I recall that some people were very disparaging about it. I am often chastised by DUP Members for putting forward confused arguments. Until Mr Watson spoke, I was slightly confused about the position taken by the proposer of the motion - the DUP is against something but is still very anxious to ensure places on it. Peter Weir said, though not in these words, that it was the democratic wish that there should be a Civic Forum and, as one had been established, the Orange Order should have membership of it.

I shall leave that aside, because there is much confusion about whether the Orange Order wanted membership of the Forum. I, along with Carmel Hanna and others, participated in some of the negotiations on who should be represented on the Civic Forum. It was decided that there would be a sector representing cultural organisations. Last February it was agreed that there would be such representation and that would be agreed through the Cultural Traditions committee of the Community Relations Council. My understanding is that a public advertisement was placed in the papers inviting people to sit on a nominating consortium. Some groups responded and six were put on the consortium, although not all took their places. The Orange Order, as an institution, did not apply to become a member of the nominating consortium.

After the consortium had been established, another advertisement was placed inviting persons to apply for membership of the Forum. Those who applied had to follow an interview process. Four persons were appointed, including at least one who is a member of the Orange Order, but not a nominee of that institution. He represents the Ulster-Scots in the cultural sector. Once again, however, no formal Orange Order nominations were received in response to the second public advertisement. Everyone knew about the advertisement. One would have thought that representatives of a cultural institution that had not already applied would have taken that opportunity to apply to become part of a consortium. However, they did not do so.

2.45 pm

As far as I understand the situation - and perhaps the proposer will come back to this point at the end of the debate - the Orange Order, as an institution, did not propose any members. So it was a wasted opportunity.

Surely, they are not telling us that not having gone through the most transparent and accountable method of selection they then went to the Office of the First Minister, which I think is what Mr Watson was saying in his speech. They had not got their "act" together as far as making those nominations was concerned, unlike everyone else who had a fair and equal opportunity. Denis uses the word, "fair" in relation to the institution. The institution itself would probably feel that that was the fair and appropriate method of applying.

It is unfair to suggest that you should go to the Office of the First Minister and seek preferential treatment. Members who were party to the negotiations will remember that when we asked the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to make nominations it was with a view to those organisations that had not been named and who actually felt that there was no place for them. That is my understanding of how some of these people were nominated by the Office of the Centre.

I am also very pleased that Denis Watson says that the Orange Order statement in July referred to their desire that the country should be well governed, fair and peaceful. If they had been members of the Civic Forum that would indeed take place. Last July left us with a desperate feeling in this country that whatever happened we were not well governed, and it certainly was not fair and peaceful.

Dr Birnie:

I feel compelled to tackle two points. The first relates to the comments made by the lead Sinn Féin speaker, and the second relates to the coherence of this motion.

First, with respect to first Sinn Féin speaker and indeed the rather colourful comparison between the Orange Order and the Ku Klux Klan. That was unfair and unhelpful. If we had time - and it probably would not be helpful but it would perhaps not be unreasonable - we could trace the antecedents of our own party and some of the rather unpleasant far right neo-fascist groups in continental Europe that Sinn Féin have been associated with over the years. The brush of racism can tar in a number of directions and Members who charge the Orange Order with that particular position need to examine the beam in their own ideological eye.

Secondly, as regards the motion lacking coherence. As far as I can see, there is in fact no appropriate and immediate action that can be taken by the Office of First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. Therefore, this motion is asking for something that, in any case. cannot be done. Of course the proposers will undoubtedly say that it is the Ulster Unionist Party's fault for structuring the Civic Forum in that way in the first place. The response to that is that this is yet another case where the Democratic Unionist Party and others absented themselves from the negotiations and then feel that they can carp about the results of those negotiations.

As has been pointed out already, there are a number of Orange Order members in the Civic Forum. Given that it is an organisation with between 40,000 to 80,000 members on the island, it is entirely appropriate that that block of so-called civic society should be represented. Undoubtedly there will be problems in the structure of the Civic Forum - there always are when new institutions are set up. I am not just thinking about the representation given to the various cultural organisations - there are broader issues. These problems can be addressed in the review of the Civic Forum, which I understand will occur one year after its onset of operation.

Mr Poots:

If evidence were required to show that the Orange Order should have been appointed to the Civic Forum, perhaps it is in today's debate; particularly after comments from those representing the Nationalist community in this Assembly. Ms Carmel Hanna, who I deem to be a very reasonable Nationalist, clearly does not understand the Orange Order, its workings, or what it is about. Obviously, representatives of the Orange Order will not have the opportunity, in the Civic Forum, to help other diverse groups in the community to know exactly what it is about.

As for Sinn Féin, I do not expect anything else from them. To talk about everyone else being bloodthirsty, racist, and bigoted is somewhat farcical given their track record in this Province over the past 30 years.

I would return to Mr Mallon's comments in relation to the establishment and representation on the Civic Forum:

"We will ensure that the Forum has the appropriate balance to enable it to represent fully all sections in Northern Ireland."

It is a very clear statement; "all sections in Northern Ireland". The Orange Order subsequently went through the process of applying for membership of the Civic Forum. Whether you agree with the body is immaterial, the fact is that they applied for membership. We do not agree with the structures of the Belfast Agreement - this Assembly is one of those structures - but we went to the people, were elected to this Assembly, and so we are entitled to be here. The Orange Order put its name forward for representation on the Civic Forum despite disagreeing with the structures brought about by the Belfast Agreement.

In my view it is arrogant of Mr Trimble and Mr Mallon to say that they have appointed members of the Orange Order and that that representation is sufficient. It smacks of what Sir Reg Empey did when he appointed Mr Bertie Kerr as chairman of the Food Safety Board. In that instance he indicated that a farming representative should be appointed as chairman, but he did not ask the Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers' Association (NIAPA) to put representatives forward; he decided who would be the best person to represent the farming community. In this instance, Mr Trimble has shown a great degree of arrogance in that his decision as to who should represent the Orange Order is above what the Orange Order would wish for itself.

There has been a constant attack on the Protestant culture, the Orange culture, and on the Unionist culture. Mr Ervine talked about the social importance of the Orange Order: it has a religious importance, a political importance, a social importance and a cultural importance. Eighty thousand men belong to the organisation. Many women and young people also support the organisation although they are not members. For people to demean the Orange Order and write it off as being something like the Ku Klux Klan shows a severe lack of understanding of what the Orange Order is.

In relation to Ms Hanna's comment that the DUP wants to bar the door after the horse has bolted, Mr McGrady said on 16 February 1999 that the DUP had been complaining about the potential composition of the Civic Forum and not about the principle of the Forum. So we are not complaining after the event, we were complaining before the event. We sent out early signals that this might well happen and, in this instance, it has. Our voice has been ignored; the voices of those within the Assembly opposed to the Belfast Agreement have been ignored, and the voice of the Orange Order has been ignored.

In conclusion, I believe the Orange Order should have been entitled to a place in the Civic Forum. The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister must look at this matter again. It is not fair to write off such a substantial section of our community while we can have the Irish language, Gaelic associations and other exclusive organisations from the Nationalist community represented.

Mrs Nelis:

Go raibh maith agat. That this motion came from the DUP must have raised a smile-if not outright laughter - from other Members. The "No" camp said "No" to the Civic Forum. Now, they want the Assembly - in particular, Members from all the parties that worked long and hard to make the Civic Forum a reality - to urge the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to appoint a representative to the Forum. Are they really saying "Yes" to something, at last?

The following sectors were invited to set up consortia that would be responsible for shortlisting candidates and ensuring a balance of gender, community background, geographical spread and age among nominees: business, agriculture and fisheries, trade unions, voluntary community work, churches, culture, arts, sports, victims, community relations, education and the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. The DUP, who rubbished the Civic Forum, now wants to add another sector - the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland - so that that organisation can be represented. Did the consortiums that came together from all the sectors of civic society that I have mentioned to nominate representatives to the Forum think so little of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland that they did not consider anyone from that organisation to be worthy of nomination? Perhaps, the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland is fully represented by nominations from the various sectoral nominees. Maybe, they are in the closet and have just not come out yet. That may happen at the next meeting of the Civic Forum; they might don their bowler hats and collarettes and proclaim that they are really members of the Grand Orange Lodge. Or does the motion mean that the DUP is under orders to support the Civic Forum, lest it become - in its warped analysis - another concession to Republicans? Do the Grand Orange Lodge and the DUP think that the Civic Forum - whatever its democratic limitations - could become a stabilising influence in their wee Province, where consensus politics is a new experience? Perhaps, they want to make sure that that does not happen.

The DUP's contribution to civic society has been limited to brandishing Union Jacks and attacking everyone who disagrees with them. Our response to the motion is "if you are not in, you can't win". More fundamentally, the Civic Forum should not have within it any group with the title "Grand". Equality must be the cornerstone of civic society. Go raibh maith agat.

Mr Hilditch:

I will get back to reality. I urge the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to seize the opportunity to appoint a representative of the Grand Lodge of Ireland to the Civic Forum immediately. The motion gives us the opportunity to expose the nonsense peddled by the pro-agreement parties that the Belfast Agreement is an all-inclusive agreement and that the Civic Forum would give representation to spokespersons from all walks of society, including churches, cultural and community groupings. Once again, the Unionist community has been discriminated against by the refusal of the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to include a representative of the Grand Lodge of Ireland on the Civic Forum.

The Orange family in Northern Ireland extends to approximately one quarter of a million people, and is one of the largest religious and cultural groupings in the Province. That the Order was not offered at least one representative on the Civic Forum is a snub to its members and our community. Once again, it demonstrates clearly that the Belfast Agreement has nothing to offer the law-abiding, decent citizens who had the forethought to say "No" to the policy of appeasement of IRA/Sinn Féin.

We would not expect the Deputy First Minister to value the Orange Institution. We condemn the part that he and other senior members of the SDLP have played in trying to demonise the Order, while supporting moves to get the armed wing of the pan-Nationalist front into Government.

However, we expected the First Minister to openly acknowledge the Orange family, membership of which he used to launch his political career and become Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party. This is a position which, I have no doubt, will come to an abrupt end soon. Alas, he appears to have as much commitment to the Orange Institution as he has shown himself to have for his election manifesto. He has broken promise after promise.

3.00 pm

The Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, publicly stated that he values the important role of the Orange Institution in Northern Ireland life. Does the First Minister also value the very important role that the Orange Order plays in Northern Ireland life? If so, why should he have the effrontery to fail to offer it a place on the Civic Forum? Mr Trimble does not appear to value its important role in Northern Ireland. After all, he is leading a charge in his party to reduce, and ultimately sever, the links with it.

Furthermore, there is the case of Portadown District No 1 on Drumcree Hill, whose members are denied their civil and religious liberties, refused access to the Queen's highway and prevented from returning home from worship, all at the behest of IRA/Sinn Féin. If the First Minister was genuinely interested in the Orange Institution, would this situation have been allowed to continue for so long? I suspect that the Orangemen on Drumcree Hill are paying the price for saying "No" to the Belfast Agreement. By not offering the institution a place on the Civic Forum, David Trimble is carrying out a petty vendetta against it, because it stood firmly against a sell-out of the Ulster people.

The Belfast Agreement discriminates against law-abiding people. It has constantly rewarded those who use violence, threaten violence, show no remorse, show no intention of mending their ways, and show no regard for those who have exercised their democratic right to say "No". The Civic Forum has been gerrymandered to exclude all but the "Yes" men. This is the democracy that David Trimble and Co call "all-inclusive".

I wanted to expose the nonsense and lies peddled by the pro-agreement parties - that the Belfast Agreement is an all-inclusive agreement - and I have used the example of the Civic Forum to demonstrate that the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister discriminate against an enormous section of the Unionist community to further its political agenda.

I support the motion.

Mr Agnew:

One of the difficulties that I had with the agreement was that it allowed all the evil elements of our society - murderers, thugs, gangsters, racketeers and drug dealers - to sit in the Government of our country. I feel sick in my stomach today when I listen to the representatives of those people lecturing me, as an Orangeman, on what my rights are. I say at the outset, I do not belong to any secret society, and I do not belong to any racist group. To suggest that the Orange Order is a racist organisation is to tell a blatant lie. Lodges in Africa, born out of the zeal of missionaries who went out there, have brought the gospel to many coloured people. I have heard nonsense today from people who know nothing about my culture or my history. They know only that they want to beat us into the ground and take from us our history and culture. I do not want to hear this nonsense; I want justice in this debate for the Orange Order - what is right and just for what I represent.

There is no justice in this proposal. We hear so much about equality, but what is meant by that? This so-called equality discriminates against me, as a representative of the majority community. An attack on the Orange Order is an attack on the Protestant community and on the Unionist community itself. We should never forget it, but that is what we have heard today. David Ervine was right. We heard a sectarian attack from someone whose background hardly justifies attacking other Members or the groups which they represent. An injustice has been done, whether or not one likes the Orange Order.

I represent a broad section of the Protestant community. It is larger than any church, sporting organisation or political party, but it is not represented in the Civic Forum. Yes, members of the Civic Forum may be members of the institution, but the Orange Order itself is not officially recognised or represented there. Therefore, that injustice against the Institution and the Protestant and the Unionist community needs to be rectified. The non-participation of the Orange Order in the Civic Forum represents discrimination against it, even though that body of opinion represents the interests of some 80,000 people plus their families in this community. The Orange Order is far reaching, stretching into 11 countries and it is time that was recognised.

Let us do away with the nonsense that we hear about the Orange Order. For goodness' sake, those who do not like us and do not know what we represent should learn a little bit about us, speak to us and read about us. We have only to look at recent history to know the background of some of those people across the way and where they are coming from. That is living history, and we know what it represents - death, destruction, bombing and murder, yet we have had to listen to this drivel today.

I am no great lover of quangos or civic forums. I believe in democracy, although I am prepared to work systems, even though I do not particularly like them. However, the Civic Forum was established through the Belfast Agreement and it has to be representative of all the interests in the community. The Orange Order is more representative of the Protestant community than any other individual or group on the Civic Forum. Various bodies and groups may be represented, but what do they represent? Only some groups and, in some instances, nothing but themselves and the Orange Order has blatantly been discriminated against through this process. I have no difficulty whatsoever in lending my support to this Motion.

Mr Berry:

I welcome this Motion. At the outset, I declare my interest as a member of the Loyal Institution and one who is proud to be so. There is no doubt that there is a great imbalance in the Civic Forum and there should be proper representation on behalf of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland. It has been pointed out clearly that it is one of the largest organisations across Northern Ireland. Sadly it has been under-represented because of its lack of involvement in the Civic Forum.

Although some Members seem to have ignored his remarks Mr Dodds, who tabled this Motion made it clear that although we were against the Civic Forum it is in place and we believe in our hearts that the Orange Institution should be represented. We do not like its make-up or the fact that it was brought into being, but now that it is there, it is important that members of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland should be fully represented.

Many people are not aware of what the Orange Institution stands for. We have listened to various members today, but one - Dr Dara O'Hagan - was quite sectarian. The Orange Institution is not just about marching around this country. It is our right to march to express our culture and heritage, and that has a lot of positive aspects. On many occasions Orange halls across Northern Ireland have held fund-raising events for charities namely Cystic Fibrosis Trust and Action Cancer. At the weekend I shall attend a fund-raising function for health charities at an Orange hall.

The Orange Order also holds church services across Northern Ireland. Those are positive contributions that it has made in Northern Ireland, although we are often demonised by the enemies of Ulster.

Orange activities are not just for the Protestant community. Children's meetings held in Orange halls are open to everybody in the community; gospel missions are open to everybody in the community; there are youth clubs and community events - the list goes on. The Orange Order has been very positive in Northern Ireland over a number of years. It is a positive organisation that has stood up for truth and righteousness in this country.

We firmly believe that the Orange Order has been shunned by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, and that should be rectified today. As Members of the Assembly we demand that this matter be reviewed with urgency.

The Orange Order has suffered greatly over the past 30 years. We have had our Orange halls attacked. Orange members have been murdered simply because they were members of the Orange Institution. I think of Tullyvallen in my constituency. We have suffered so much, yet we are not represented properly on the Civic Forum. It is most important that our views and concerns are heard, and for that to happen, we must be represented on the Civic Forum.

Our enemies can point to things that have happened - indeed, things that should not have happened - within the institution. One Member referred to the incident on the Ormeau Road that happened in relation to the murder of those people at the bookie's shop. I have no doubt that all Members in this Chamber who are members of the Orange Institution condemn what happened on the Ormeau Road. We do not stand up for those people who put up their hands and chanted as they were walking along the Ormeau Road. I was totally disgusted when I saw that happening. That does not represent the views of the vast majority of the Orange Institution. However its enemies are quick to point out any fault and wrongdoing. The Orange Institution has been one of the largest and most positive organisations in Northern Ireland and, without it this country would be in a much worse state today. It must be represented.

I support the motion.

Madam Deputy Speaker:

I remind Members that when comments are directed at particular individuals in the Chamber they come close to infringing parliamentary courtesy.

Mrs E Bell:

As always, I will try to keep to the wording of the motion, although I confess that I am at a loss to see what the purpose of the motion is. Has the Grand Orange Lodge made its concerns known to the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister and to the Community Relations Council's cultural traditions section? I have heard the concerns of members of the Orange Order and have asked Members from Mr Dodds's party if the Grand Orange Lodge applied to be considered for nomination to the Civic Forum. I have been told by a number of people that it did not reply to the advertisement inviting applications.

The procedure for selection for nomination was, I believe, carried out in strict adherence to the Nolan principles. It would be very wrong specifically to invite now, as the motion is suggesting, one organisation, however strong it may be, to apply after the process has been gone through and the nomination list closed. I am not opposing the inclusion of the Grand Orange Lodge. What I am saying is that its inclusion should only come about with equity and through the observance of agreed procedures, so that no one feels discriminated against. What is proposed in this motion would patently not be in accord with those procedures.

If the motion succeeds, and immediate steps are taken to appoint a representative, that will beset a dangerous precedent that will fly in the face of the Nolan principles. It could only result in a flow of similar applications from other organisations and individuals who were not selected and who feel just as strongly that they should have been.

I am not going to comment on the general make-up of the Civic Forum. Suffice it to say that, obviously, a lot of hard work has been done to create the most comprehensive and representative forum possible. It will have a heavy task in following a widespread programme of work, which should be relevant and complementary to the Assembly's work. Throughout the troubles, one of the greatest weaknesses in our society has been the division between political and civic society. That is why my party has been supporting the idea of a civic forum since 1988.

3.15 pm

The Civic Forum, if allowed, should reduce this weakness in Northern Ireland. It is vital that correct, transparent methods of selection be maintained at all times in all sectors of society. It is also essential that the Assembly set the right example with the establishment of the Civic Forum. I accept that it is unfortunate that such a significant and traditional organisation should not be admitted, but you can take a white horse to water.

I urge the Grand Lodge to ensure that its concerns are noted in the right places and to apply for membership when the Forum is reviewed in due course. I hope that it will then be included. For that reason, I cannot support this motion.

Mr Shannon:

I support the motion. In the past two years the people of Northern Ireland have been forced to stand by as David Trimble and his band of merry capitulators set about deconstructing the principles of Unionism upon which his party was once based. The latest phase of this grand plan of surrender has been the construction of a so-called Civic Forum. Purported to be consultative, the Civic Forum has been created to give businesses, trade unions and the voluntary sector a direct line into the Assembly. Nobody is being fooled about any aspect of the Belfast Agreement and the true thrust of the political process anymore.

Certain pro-agreement parties lauded the Belfast Agreement as a means of ridding Northern Ireland of its quango culture. However, in the very same breath they are breathing life into what is the biggest and most prominent quango to be launched in Northern Ireland.

This unelected, unaccountable body serves a two-fold purpose. First, it was designed as a safety net for the representatives of those organisations who played a crucial role in hoodwinking the Unionist electorate yet did not receive a democratic mandate in the referendum. Secondly, it is clear from the body's make-up that it exists to support the pro-agreement stances of Nationalism and minority Unionism within the Assembly Chamber and in the Province.

As an integral part of the Belfast Agreement, the Forum was set up as a direct result of the pressure exerted through terrorist atrocity and crime. It exists solely to appease those who are committed to returning to violence, should concessions dry up. Never in the history of democracy has there been any political precedent for giving a place in a Government institution to those who use violence to undermine democratic liberties while retaining and retraining private armies. It is a practical and theoretical impossibility for such an institution to act as the foundation for any sort of democracy.

The stark reality of the Civic Forum is that its membership has a 2:1 Nationalist/Unionist ratio. This is evidence of how the Forum and the agreement are devoid of democratic principle. Nationalism remains committed to undermining the authority of the Crown, the integrity of the United Kingdom and the legitimacy of British culture in Ulster. In practice, the Belfast Agreement was designed with the principles of Irish Nationalism in mind. This intolerance extends to the Civic Forum which, it is claimed, exists to accommodate cultural diversity, despite the fact there has been a failure officially to appoint a member of the largest cultural organisation in Northern Ireland.

The Orange institution, wedded to the principles of democracy and liberty for all, does not merit inclusion under the agreement. To include it would be to accept and acknowledge the organisation, its principles and its right to cultural expression. This is not part of the Nationalist agenda so it is not a surprising development. It is symptomatic of the oft-mentioned new dispensation under which any majority, which has pro-democracy and pro-Union views, is disregarded as being unhelpful and is accused of seeking to return to what are referred to by some as "the bad old days". What were those "bad old days"? Those were the days when a person was free to express his cultural identity peacefully, free from the grip of intolerance, free from intimidation and free from persecution. I take exception to some of the remarks that have been made here today in reference to people, such as the many law-abiding members of my lodge.

These law-abiding people, who have not even had so much as a parking ticket in their lives - in 30, 40, 70 or 80 years - will all find remarks that have been made today scurrilous, aggressive, scandalous and hurtful. It is essential that one cultural identity in Northern Ireland be not promoted over and above another. Unfortunately, as long as Nationalism remains true to its elitist and sectarian principles, and while certain sections of Unionism are prepared to subscribe to the principles of surrender, our culture will never receive the parity or respect which is its due.

The Civic Forum is just one more unnecessary layer of bureaucracy, created out of political expediency and draining the taxpayer of funds which should be diverted to a crumbling Health Service. The Civic Forum exists only as part and parcel of a greater plan to maintain a situation in which IRA/Sinn Féin does not feel the need to put bombs in London to force its political agenda. Mr Trimble has stumbled, jumped and scrambled throughout the process, and he has now fallen flat on his face. The Civic Forum is just one more blunder.

Junior Minister (Office of First and Deputy First Ministers) (Mr Nesbitt): The debate has been interesting and quite wide ranging this afternoon. I wish to make some general comments on matters of principle which have permeated the discussion. The Civic Forum is one of the institutions of the Belfast Agreement, and, like it or not, the Belfast Agreement is about inclusiveness. It is about having institutions in Northern Ireland to which the vast majority of people can feel an affinity and an allegiance. That is what we are trying to achieve - a normal society in which democracy works, in which people may not like individual, elected representatives but at least have respect and regard for the institutions in which those representatives operate. The Civic Forum is clearly nestled in inclusiveness and involvement and in getting the community involved in democracy in Northern Ireland after 30 years of violence.

Mr Agnew noted that many references have been made to equality and rights in this debate. There are no such things as Unionist rights, Nationalist rights, orange rights or green rights. We want to see the rights accepted by democracy throughout the world accepted here. We all have rights and responsibilities and rules by which we should abide.

The issue of rules is relevant today; there has been a slight confusion with two words - "organisation" and "sector". When referring to all sections of Northern Ireland, Mr Poots spoke of an Gaelaras as being an exclusive organisation with some right to be there. No organisation has a given right to be there. That was the rule agreed by the Assembly. Rather, sectors have the right. Mr Weir mentioned the trade union sector. He is correct: the trade union sector has a right to be a party to that process, but not ICTU or NIARC or any other trade union organisation. It is not an organisation but a sector which is represented, and people are nominated from that point of view.

Another report came before the Assembly in February 1999, which again clarified where the nominations would come from. They were to come from 10 specified sectors, and not from individual organisations. The report also said that there would be a cultural traditions group and that within that group would be a four-member consortium. An advertisement was placed inviting organisations to apply to the consortium. I use the word "organisation" carefully; an organisation could be part of the consortium, but not individuals.

After the Civic Forum secretariat received a letter from Mr Patton of the Orange Order, it advised him on 11 August that members of the Order could apply. To date no applications have been received. The fact that there is a distinction between an organisation and a sector has permeated this debate. The Orange Order is seen as an organisation, not a sector; it is not eligible to apply.

The criteria used for selection were that on application had to come from an established Northern Ireland cultural organisation that had a proven background in community relations and showed an understanding of, and commitment to, the principles of equity, diversity and interdependence.

When the consortium was formed it decided on its selection system, and details of that were included in the report endorsed by the Assembly. My aim has been to distinguish between an organisation and a sector, the core of this argument.

The Civic Forum is an element of the Belfast Agreement. It is to do with inclusiveness, not an easy issue. Mr Haughey and I have met with groups that feel they have been left out of the system. However, the general consensus is that the Forum is broadly representative. It may not be ideal, and it may not reflect what has been said by the proposers of the debate this afternoon. However, in difficult circumstances we have done our best to put appropriate representatives on it. As my party Colleague Dr Birnie, said this procedure will be reviewed within a year.

Junior Minister (Office of First and Deputy First Ministers) (Mr Haughey): I want to refer to two general issues. Mr Poots and others have alleged that people who are not members of the Orange Order are ignorant of its nature, its beliefs and its function in the community.

3.30 pm

Throughout this debate I detected a lack of appreciation of the nature of the Civic Forum and its function in this community as envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement. The purpose of the Forum is to enable this Administration to engage in a structured, formal dialogue with important sectors of the community in the social and economic sphere. Many Members missed that point.

It is not enough to assert that the Orange Order has a right to a special dedicated place in the Civic Forum. You have to provide a cogent and persuasive argument as to why, alone of all organisations - cultural, social, religious, sporting and so on - the Orange Order should have a dedicated place within the Civic Forum. That would not be an argument for a right, but rather for a privileged, different and unique position for the Orange Order. I am prepared to listen to such an argument, but I did not hear one.

If that argument were conceded, exactly the same argument could be made on behalf of the Royal Black Preceptory, the Apprentice Boys of Derry, the Royal Arch Purple and many other organisations on the Unionist side, let alone those on the Nationalist side. I am not going to mention names, because there is no exact parallel to the Orange Order on the Nationalist side of the community. However, there are many organisations on the Nationalist side that are as big, and as culturally significant, as the Orange Order is within the Unionist community. Would we have to examine which of those had a right to a dedicated place within the Civic Forum?

As Minister Nesbitt pointed out, there was no ban on the Orange Order seeking a place within the Civic Forum. In fact, the Orange Order made early contact with the authorities, and was told in no uncertain terms how to go about seeking a place in the Civic Forum. It chose not to do so. That is its right, but a question mark, as well as an eyebrow, has to be raised if subsequent to the appointment of the Civic Forum it comes along and says it was ignored, left out, or discriminated against.

No one in the Administration, nor anyone in this House, would wish to discriminate against or deliberately or unfairly exclude the Orange Order. However, a pathway was there for it to seek entry into the Civic Forum, and it chose not to follow it. It has come along later and, with the support of those who proposed this motion, sought a privileged position, but without any persuasive argument as to why the Orange Order alone should have a dedicated place.

The confusion comes down to something Edwin Poots said. Some Members supporting the motion described the Orange Order as a religious organisation, others as a cultural organisation. Denis Watson described it as an organisation of enormous social significance in the Unionist community, and he referred to the community audits that have borne that out. Mr Poots then said it is all of those things - political, religious, social and cultural - and I do not doubt that he is right. However, if it is a political organisation, should it not have sought representation in this Chamber, which is the political centre of the Administration?

Many of my Colleagues on the other side of the House are members of the Orange Order and can to one degree or another - I see Paul Berry smiling - speak for the Orange Order. This is the place for political argument. If the Orange Order is a religious organisation, is the place for religion not in church? Should it not have sought representation in the Civic Forum through the churches panel? If it is a cultural organisation, should it not have sought representation through the cultural panel? Why did it not do any of these things? No one has answered that question, and therefore I cannot understand why eyebrows are being raised and people are alleging discrimination.

I want to refer to some particular points made? Mr Dodds referred to the fact that the overwhelming majority of those in the Civic Forum are supporters of the agreement. I do not know how he is aware of that, but if it were so, I would not be surprised, given that 72% of the people of this community voted for the agreement. It would not be unreasonable to assume that the majority of those in the Civic Forum are from that 72% of the community.

Mr Weir confessed that he is an agnostic. I have no interest in his personal habits - [Laughter] - but as to his charge that the Forum is a quango, I suggest that he has got it wrong. I refer Members back to what I said at the beginning of the debate. The Forum is a structured body which is meant to communicate between civil society and Administration. The Administration is not going to limit itself to using the Civic Forum as the only means of engaging this community in dialogue, and I suggest that this is one of the ways in which this Administration can distinguish itself from what went before, in that we engage in honest, open dialogue with civil society, not just through the Civic Forum, but through many other channels.

Mr Boyd alleged that the Orange Order had been excluded from the Civic Forum. In fact, it was not. The path that would have led to their having representation on it was open for them to take. Monica McWilliams, in a telling speech, pointed out that a position of privilege, not of right, was being sought for the Orange Order.

I congratulate my own Colleague Ms Hanna. She made a telling and constructive contribution to the debate in which she reiterated the confusion about the Orange Order and the fact that it did not seek a representative position through the normal channels but wished to take a privileged route into representation.

I want to refer to a point that Mr Shannon made. He alleged that the composition of Civic Forum favoured Nationalists as opposed to Unionists by about two to one. That is not true, as the community background of the members of the Civic Forum is, in so far as they declare themselves, 55% Unionist and 45% Nationalist. That is roughly reflective of the balance in the wider community. Members ought to acquaint themselves with the nature and purpose of the forum and appreciate that it is not appropriate to seek a privileged position for one organisation above any other. If an organisation feels it has a contribution to make, it should try to get into the Civic Forum through the normal channels.


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