McAuley, James W. and Tonge, Jonathan (2008) The Social and Political Bases of the Orange Order in Northern Ireland: Full Research Report ESRC End of Award Report, RES-000-23-1614. Other. ESRC, Swindon. (Unpublished)

Although still one of the largest organisations in civil society in Northern Ireland, the Orange Order has only recently been the focus of serious academic study. Kaufmann (2007) and Patterson and Kaufmann (2007) enjoyed unprecedented access to Orange Order archives and Ulster Unionist Council papers to produce illuminating studies of the evolution of the Order, Orange geographic density and relations with the Ulster Unionist Party. Their findings refute perceptions of a homogeneous, united Orange-Unionist movement, instead offering a more nuanced and convincing picture of, firstly, intra-Orange divisions between urban, left-leaning working-class Orangemen and conservative rural brethren suspicious of Catholic encroachment and secondly, a sometimes fractious relationship between the Orange Order and the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). Nonetheless, an overarching sense of cross-class Protestant-Orange-British-Unionist unity usually inhibited serious fragmentation.

The Northern Ireland peace process and the 1998 Belfast Agreement brought to the fore internal
unionist divisions. Although the UUP supported the deal, it was soon evident that this backing
was not shared by many Protestants. Most Orange Order members opposed the Agreement and the anti-Agreement Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) increased its support. Long bereft of political influence, strongly opposed to the Agreement and fearful of a dilution of their Orange-British culture (a concern exacerbated by restrictions upon some contentious Orange parades) the Orange Order finally severed its contentious, century-old formal alliance with the UUP in 2005, many of its members within the UUP having opposed that party’s leadership and many of those outside the party supporting the DUP.

To properly assess these developments, it was necessary to explore the demographic basis (was there, for example, a social class or age basis to the allegiance shift?) and political outlook (is there a clear ‘Orange’ view on political issues?) of the Orange Order membership. Hitherto, no systematic study of Orange Order members had been conducted. This research aimed to fill that void by completing a detailed quantitative survey of the characteristics and attitudes of Orange Order members, allied to in-depth qualitative interviews. Seemingly politically isolated, afflicted by secularism, culturally defensive and socially increasingly confined to the lower social classes, what are the contemporary characteristics of a member of the Orange Order; what shapes continuing loyalty to Orangeism and what does this entail?

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