Over 40 officers and members from Co Tyrone and Co Fermanagh Grand Orange Lodge met together for a special conference on 5 March in The Bawn Orange Hall, near Ballygawley. The purpose was to hear about the experience of Co Fermanagh Grand Lodge who published a Community Audit and Good Relations Strategy in 2014.
Bryony May author of the Audit, presented its findings and Earl Storey (Maynooth University Centre for Studies in Irish Protestantism) then interviewed Co Fermanagh officers about their experience of undertaking it. The event was also addressed by Dr Johnston McMaster, who spoke about the impact of The Somme on the Ulster Protestant psyche. He also reflected on future directions for that community.
The Community Audit was commissioned by the Order with the intention of increasing understanding and good relations across the community. Officers from Co Fermanagh Grand Lodge presented copies of the Report in 2015 to the Secretary of State Theresa Villiers and to Mr Charlie Flanagan, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade in Ireland. They have also presented copies to political, civic and church leaders from right across the community.
When the Secretary of State was presented with the audit she said, “This progressive initiative will help stimulate discussion on the role that the organisation can play as part of wider society in Northern Ireland and help provide a greater understanding of the Orange Institutions ethos and tradition both locally and internationally. It will also help create the circumstances, which allow its membership to take steps to address the many challenging viewpoints of the Order that are borne out in the audit findings. All of this will help develop better relationships and understanding between different parts of the community in County Fermanagh.”
When presented with the audit Minister Charlie Flanagan said, “It is a very positive step forward and I want to commend and congratulate all involved in Fermanagh for leading by example and working to build greater trust and respect across all strands of the community.”
A community audit is a way for any organisation to find out how its own membership and the wider community experience and perceive it. This new publication reports the results from what is the first ever community audit, consultation and good relations action plan for any County Grand Lodge to have been completed.
More than 600 members of the Loyal Order in the Lakeland county and a representation of people from across the community; including the voluntary, statutory and public sectors took part in the extensive information-gathering exercise. It took a year to complete and was supported by Fermanagh District Council and delivered by Green Hat, a locally based consultancy.
Participants expressed opinions on a range of topics including parading, the use of Orange halls, flags and community education.
County Grand Master of County Fermanagh Grand Orange Lodge, Mr Stuart Brooker, maintained the Audit would form a basis for the Institution’s continuing outreach with the wider community.
He said, “This is a ground-breaking report and one which challenges many assumptions, views and perceptions about the Orange Order from both the wider public as well as the members. This report has enabled us to have constructive conversations and we are pleased to present and discuss its findings. We want to joyfully celebrate our culture as well as be good neighbours”.
Grand Master of County Tyrone Grand Orange Lodge, Mr Jim Emery said, “It is a mark of confidence that the audit was commissioned and published. It highlights the commitment we all have to live peaceably and respectfully with our neighbours. Dr McMaster’s reflections on The Somme also brought us a deeper understanding of a crucial moment in our history and helped us think about our future in a hopeful way”.
Bryony May, said: “This was both a sensitive and high profile project, and we recognise the leadership that County Fermanagh Grand Orange Lodge have shown in undertaking this work. Green Hat brought an outsider perspective to the project and it was a bold move by the County Grand Lodge to work with us on this.
The report is designed to be a positive contribution to good relations in Fermanagh. It is available to read online via the publications section of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland website at www.grandorangelodge.co.uk