The Orange Order in Northern Ireland: Has political isolation, sectarianism, secularism, or declining social capital proved the biggest challenge?



McCaldon, A
(2018) The Orange Order in Northern Ireland: Has political isolation, sectarianism, secularism, or declining social capital proved the biggest challenge? PhD thesis, University of Liverpool.

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Abstract

The Orange Order remains one of the largest and most significant organisations within civic society in Northern Ireland. It provides an institutional focus for the distinctive social, religious, and cultural traditions associated with Protestant British unionism in the region. However, having gone from a commanding position at the outbreak of the Troubles in 1968 with sizeable political influence and approximately 100,000 members, the Order has been reduced to the margins within the new, post–conflict polity in Northern Ireland. The principal aim of this research is to assess why the Orange Order has suffered political and numerical decline in the region and clarify how this distinctly ethno–religious organisation has adapted (or failed to adapt) to the changed political and social contexts in which it exists. In order to do this, a qualitative, ethno–graphic study drawing upon interviews with Orange Order members is undertaken. This involves detailed examination of discourses, documents and events. This thesis tests four competing hypotheses of the primary causes of retreat: (1) loss of political power since the collapse of Northern Ireland Parliament in 1972; (2) marginalisation through the growing unacceptability and diminishing appeal of overt religious sectarianism; (3) secularism within society; and, (4) the decline in social capital. These hypotheses are tested in terms of their contribution to the marginalisation of the Orange Order in Northern Ireland. The collapse of Northern Ireland’s devolved political structure in the early 1970s removed the Order’s capacity to wield political influence. Following the sidelining of local political actors thereafter, epitomised by the intergovernmental nature of the Anglo–Irish Agreement, unionism later found itself again in turmoil in the wake of the divisive Good Friday Agreement in 1998. The Agreement prescribed a parity of esteem between the two traditions and further – and irreversibly – changed the status quo in which the institution operated. The Order’s reputation for perpetuating sectarianism was already being challenged internally within and also beyond unionism and it has struggled for so–called middle–class respectability. Concurrently, an increasingly atomistic society and diminishing social capital has left the Orange Order with less relevancy or attraction for Protestant Unionists in the twenty–first century, especially when compared to earlier periods. Whilst this thesis upholds the argument that political and social marginalisation have been key causes of decline, the impact of secularism is found to have been of less – but far from negligible – significance. Amid its struggle for relevancy, the Orange Order operates in heavily reduced circumstances in which the institution attempts to retain its membership in an era when attracting new blood is difficult. Nonetheless, the thesis argues that Orangeism remains an important political and cultural strand of loyalism in Northern Ireland, adapting to become one closely associated with band traditions which show little sign of diminution.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Divisions: Fac of Humanities & Social Sci > School of Histories, Languages and Cultures
Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 27 Nov 2018 15:33
Last Modified: 03 Mar 2021 10:09
DOI: 10.17638/03027947
Supervisors:
  • Tonge, Jon
URI: https://livrepository.liverpool.ac.uk/id/eprint/3027947