Falkirk Council is to provide funding intended for community events to the Orange Order, in a move which has reignited the debate over Scotland’s nonsensical approach to sectarianism.
At a meeting of the Council’s Executive Committee on Wednesday, Labour Councillors, including leader Craig Martin, voted through plans to grant £1,145 to the Order, a decision branded a “misuse of public funds” by the SNP opposition. The award comes despite cuts across the Council, including a reduction in the budget which pays for events like the Camelon Mariners’ Day and the Bo’ness Fair. The march through Falkirk town centre on 25th June, organised by the Country Grand Lodge of the East of Scotland, is expected to one of the largest in the country.
This Summer, Falkirk will also host separate marches by the Apprentice Boys of Derry, with further Orange Events planned for July and August. Elsewhere in Scotland, the volume of Orange Walks is equally contentious. It seems it’s always the 12th of July somewhere; there’s a march outside my window as I write this, just like there was yesterday.
There has been some controversy around the decision by Falkirk Council to waive the charges imposed by the Police for closing the roads – but be careful what you wish for. The charges may be an unnecessary cost for our cash strapped councils but they are a bigger burden if you want to march to save your local school. Many councils have taken the decision not to pass these costs on to the community and should be supported for doing so. Whether the Orange Order should be granted such frequent access to public space, which is so jealously guarded from the rest of us, is another matter entirely.
The real focus should be on the additional cash being handed over to support a group which exists to promote sectarian supremacy, especially since, as SNP councillors have highlighted, the fund is not intended for use by political or religious groups. The Orange Order bans Catholics and those who marry Catholics from their organisation and was an official participant in the referendum back in 2014, so it can’t pretend it’s not both religious and political. Every penny given to them could be spent on more inclusive events.
This is not the first time the relationship between local government and the Orange Order has been called into question. After being elected on a promise to reduce the number of Orange Walks, Glasgow’s Labour council had a sudden change of heart, with a large number of parades happening in the run up to the referendum. The council also provided over £2000 towards Orange Order events to commemorate the Queen’s Jubilee in 2012. With local elections next year, you could be forgiven for wondering whether Labour councillors in Falkirk and elsewhere are using public funds to try to ensure their Orange allies stay…loyal.
As marching season picks up pace, we should again ask why the public purse is being dipped to fund groups who’ve got more than enough cash and organisational capacity to bang drums and bait Catholics without government assistance. If sectarianism is “Scotland’s shame,” subsidised sectarianism still shames many of our local authorities.