McNarry’s exit suggests deeper divisions…

BBC Radio Ulster’s Seven Days doesn’t appear to be online, but you can take my word for it that there was a blazing row on it yesterday, resulting in Ulster Unionist politician David McNarry walking out of the studio.McNarry’s premature exit from Broadcasting House was prompted by a debate over the Orangeman David Burrows appointment (not election, as McNarry rightly pointed out) to the Parades Commission – a quango McNarry wants abolished.

But in the course of the discussion, a former senior Orange Order member – the more liberal Rev Brian Kennaway – referred to a newspaper claim (which I can’t find online) that McNarry had once applied to be the chairman of the same Commission.

McNarry – formerly an advisor to Nobel peace prize winner David Trimble – vehemently denied the allegation, describing it as “crap”, if I remember right, and left the studio.

While I’m sure there’s no reason to disbelieve McNarry, it does raise the question of where the Orange Order now stands on the Parades Commission.

There are reports of grassroots disapproval of Burrows – a central figure on the Orange side of the Drumcree marching dispute – but with DUP hardliner David Simpson refusing to condemn Burrows, perhaps it marks a shift of tactics in the ‘culture war’ over controversial marches.

If the DUP is now ready to lay down political cover for Burrows, no wonder the UUP feels touchy. They may well suspect that their influence on the parades issue is being whipped from under their marching feet. After all, Sir Reg said it would be key to his leadership of the UUP, but after official finalisation of the divorce between his party and the Orange Order, perhaps the DUP has spotted an opportunity… after all, if DUP sympathisers can engineer a Garvaghy Road march after so many years being banned, it won’t reflect badly on people like Mr Simpson, who is MP for the area, a seat he took from David Trimble at the last election.

But there is more to this than just party political divisions, as Burrows hasn’t always been popular with the Orange Grand Master, Robert Saulters, a DUP supporter. There are still questions to be answered by the Order itself, starting with Burrows’ membership of the organisation, as he is possibly acting outside Orange policy by talking to the Parades Commission without authorisation. And how can he, in future, talk to residents groups fronted by convicted republican terrorists and remain a member? It remains to be seen. This is new territory.

On the other side of the tribal fence, republicans aren’t happy at all with the appointment of Burrows and another Orangeman to the Commission (Don McKay, Portadown Orangeman and DUP activist).

Republicans see this as a sop to unionists and will question if two Orange Order members will rule against ‘their own’ parades, particularly Drumcree.

But what do they fear? Dialogue – and the prospect of Orange feet on the Garvaghy Road? Are some unionists prepared to call the republican bluff by doing the one thing they never expected – being reasonable?

And indeed, Burrows has a lot to prove, with such major baggage always going to raise many questions about conflicts of interest.

But with DUP support from a party increasingly ‘playing’ the political game, senior Portadown Orangemen on the inside and a Parades Commission anxious to take a fresh ‘on the ground’ approach, there are some interesting times ahead…