So, parades are good for the Northern Ireland economy?
The Loyal Orders have faced various criticisms down the years, the most obvious being the accusation that they are a bulwark for bigotry in Ireland. But there have been other more local campaigns that have challenged the Orders’ perceived right to parade through areas where local residents say they cause offence. Of course the Orangemen and loyalists have countered these campaigns with their own arguments and sometimes with force. But more recent Orangemen and their supporters have stood accused of being an economic liability.
The cost of policing contentious parades alone was £7.4m last year and critics are quick to add the negative impact on tourism and potential investment in Northern Ireland to the charge sheet.
There have been attempts at rebranding the loyalist marching season and to configure the Twelfth of July as a more “inclusive day of celebration” but these have done little to take the political heat out of the occasion or persuade critics that the Twelfth might actually be able to provide a potential economic dividend. But now, according to a report compiled for the Department for Social Development by RSM McClure Watters, the economic and social benefits generated by the Loyal Orders and marching bands amounts to almost £54 million per year.
The figure breaks down like this: the Loyal Orders and bands contribute an estimated £38.64 million annually through the provision of facilities, community and volunteer work and fundraising for numerous charities, while the direct economic impact of the sector is approximately £15 million, incorporating expenditure on regalia, uniforms, instruments, bus hire and other services. Tourism revenue – taking into account those who travel to the Province specifically to observe or participate in parades and associated events – is not included in the final figures.
Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland, himself a member of the Orange Order, welcomed the report’s findings saying: “For the first time we now have extensive, robust and independently collected data on the social and economic impact the sector delivers to our society.”
The “sector”? When did parading become a sector? That’s a term that implies economic and/or social value, like business sector, cultural/creative sector, community or voluntary sector. Now there’s a parading sectoring?
It seems that the marching season now comes with economic benefits, which will no doubt alarm the Order’s opponents, once confident in their assertion that the marching season was a waste of money and deterrent to investment. But wait. The report has brought a curious response from nationalism. The SDLP economy spokesman, and chairman of the Enterprise Trade and Investment Committee at Stormont, Patsy McGlone has said there should also be a report into the economic and social benefits of the Gaelic Athletic Association also. Well, that’s a curious turn for the ‘whataboutery’ narrative to take! If they’re getting a report, we want one too.
But why should the Loyal Orders or the GAA care about whether they bring economic benefits to brand NI? More to point what would happen if either organisation were found to be an economic liability? Would they be subject to rigours of the free market and closed down, their membership made redundant? Not likely. So why did the Department for Social Development help the Orange Order pay for a £40,000 report that is little more than an exercise in point-scoring?
I have to confess that I find something disconcerting about watching the Loyal Orders making the economic case for their existence. Imagine if other political, cultural or religious expressions of allegiance needed to account for themselves in terms of their economic impact on their regions? Actually there are probably some that do, but I never thought I’d live to see the relentless logic of capitalism underscore the the Orange Order’s determination to march.
The full report is hosted here on the Orange Order’s website