Political argument will not persuade unionists in Northern Ireland that they have a future in an Irish nation, a senior Orange Order official has told an audience of academics in Huddersfield today, March 4, 2010.
Dr. David Hume, the Orange Order’s Director of Services, said that nationalists in Northern Ireland could not convince people like him that they were Irish.
But he said that while he had no sense of being Irish, he respected Irish history, tradition and culture.
“I know and respect it as a person would know and respect their next door neighbour, but that knowledge and respect does not make me a member of the family,” he told a seminar at the University of Huddersfield this evening.
He cited members of the Orange Order in the Irish Republic – who said that while they were not politically or legally British, they felt culturally British – as an example of the layers of Britishness which prevail in different parts of the British Isles.
The Orange Order’s Director of Services was addressing the sixth in a series of interdisciplinary seminars on new perspectives of Britishness.
Dr. Hume’s speech followed on from previous speakers including Jake Bowers (a Romani journalist who talked about Roma, Gypsies, Travellers and Britishness); Mark Perryman (who addressed civic Englishness); Chris Harvie MSP; Adam Price MP; Alan Powers (an expert on British art, design and architecture); Bernadine Evaristo and Paul Burston (both writers).
Dr. Hume said that being British was not something defined by faith, colour or background, and that pluralism was part of the process by which Britain defined itself. The arrival of new peoples in the United Kingdom was part of the process of history which had been happening for centuries, but there was a challenge to ensure that new communities were assimilated and respected.
He cautioned that no one should confuse being British with being English, in that regional culture and identity should be encouraged; “There has, in the modern UK, to be a greater sense in England in particular that we are all part of the nation, we are all as British as Finchley. That is very important if the regions are to be encouraged in their sense of belonging and not pushed in other political directions,” he said.
Dr. Hume said that Northern Ireland was the only part of the United Kingdom where, in recent decades, people had died in order to remain British, citing the loss of life in the Troubles and the losses sustained by the Orange Order, now put at 335 members.
He said that the Orange Order, having sustained the loss of so many, remained proud to be British and was well placed to encourage British values and pride.
“We are an organisation which is unashamedly Protestant but which also espouses civil and religious liberty for all,” he said.
“The Orange Order is well placed to ensure that we do not lose our sense of British identity across the Kingdom and that that sense of identity is brought into the mainstream of our communities and not abandoned to others. It is important that a sense of Britishness is not left carelessly lying on the political fringes of the nation,” he said.
Among those present at the speech was an invited audience of students, academics and representatives from the public, including members of the local Orange lodge in Manchester.