A prominent Irish writer and historian has accused Fermanagh District Council of censoring her work after it “demanded” the removal of a reference to trouble in Newtownbutler from a foreward she had written to accompany an audit into the Orange Order here.
Ruth-Dudley Edwards, a columnist with the Sunday Independent, was asked to write the piece for the report, commissioned by Fermanagh District Council and Fermanagh Grand Orange Lodge, but found herself at the centre of a “row” between both parties.
The audit, undertaken through the Council’s Good Relations department, looks at how the Orange Order in Fermanagh has engaged with the community. For over a year, Green Hat, a consultancy firm based in Maguiresbridge, interviewed several members of the Orange Order, the local community and political parties, including Sinn Fein, to gauge opinion on the association.
But it is understood that a remark by Ms Edwards caused friction between members of the Orange Lodge and Council officials and led to the official launch of the audit in January being postponed.
Ms Edwards said she wrote the foreword after Fermanagh Grand Orange Lodge told her they “were looking for someone who has a knowledge of the Orange Order but recognised as not always being fully supportive”.
In her piece, she wrote about contentious parades and frustration with the “inability of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland to show intelligent and imaginative leadership at a time of peril.” “It should have taken a lead from the Fermanagh Orange and Black,” wrote Ms Edwards “who used their heads and - while refusing to be intimidated - avoided pointless confrontation and sought accommodation with reasonable people.” But it was the next line that caused problems: “I saw this at first hand in Newtownbutler, where protesters from outside tried but failed to tear a harmonious community apart.” While Ms Edwards says she was speaking “particularly of protesters from Monaghan”, the Council objected to the line, fearing it would damage community relations.
“I was asked to tone this down to keep Fermanagh District Council happy and agreed to,” she said, altering the remark to: “I saw this at first hand in Newtownbutler, where protesters failed to tear a harmonious community apart.” “Fermanagh District Council then demanded the entire sentence be removed,” she added.
“What happened happened and there is no hope for Northern Ireland if the past is airbrushed out because it doesn’t suit politicians or public officials.” “This censorship was as stupid and short-sighted as it was crass and I hope Fermanagh District Council is held up to the ridicule it deserves,” said Ms Edwards.
The Impartial Reporter understands that Fermanagh District Council threatened to refuse to endorse the report – which it had spent ratepayers’ money on – and pull future funding from the Orange Order in Fermanagh if the sentence was not removed.
“I’m sad that Fermanagh District Council has shown such cowardice,” Ms Edwards told The Impartial Reporter, “In commissioning this audit, Fermanagh Grand Lodge was once again showing the loyal institutions the moral leadership it displayed in terrible times.” “In The Faithful Tribe, I wrote about the inadequacies of Orange leadership and the thuggery of some of its members, but also wrote about the fine members I came to know. I have a few pages on how wise leadership saved the community of Newtownbutler from being torn apart by trouble-makers from outside. That Fermanagh District Council censored a brief reference to that shocks me,” she said.
Ms Edwards said she deeply regretted that she had “unwittingly been the cause of this row” between Fermanagh District Council and Fermanagh Grand Orange Lodge. “The audit is a brilliant idea and the partnership between Fermanagh District Council and Fermanagh Grand Lodge was admirable. It’s a terrible shame that these rows have marred what should have been a shining example of intelligent cooperation.” “I was initially incredulous that Fermanagh District Council should behave so badly, but I was OK about changes being made. What matters is the report,” she said.
Mr. Tommy McLaughlin, the Council’s Good Relations Officer, has said that at “no stage were there any internal difficulties between any Officers at Fermanagh District Council and Fermanagh Orange Order.” “I can inform you that throughout the process of the audit both Council staff and the Orange Order had an excellent working relationship based on trust and mutual respect.” Mr. Stuart Brooker, County Grandmaster of Fermanagh Grand Orange Lodge, issued a similar response.
“At no stage were there any internal difficulties regarding the Audit between the officers of County Fermanagh Grand Orange Lodge and officials at Fermanagh District Council. At all times throughout the process, the County Grand Lodge Officers, the Consultants, and Council Staff, have enjoyed a good working relationship, resulting in the successful completion of the report,” he said.
The audit will now be launched next month.