The Grand Secretary of the Orange Order, Rev. Mervyn Gibson, admitted that the gruesome, communal video of the Orangemen mocking the murder of Michael McArvey has exposed the organization to even more criticism.
That clip, showing men laughing about a woman’s death, scares people across the board and further damages the order in the eyes of its critics. This is why Presbyterian minister Rev. Gibson has written to the McAreavey and Harte families to meet.
“If they want to talk to us we have offered to talk to them but they have not responded yet. I am careful in saying this. It seems like we are doing things behind the scenes but such things need to be done behind the scenes. I just don’t want to do anything that adds another ounce of injury to what they’re already suffering because of Michael’s loss,” he says.
We meet at the Museum of Orange Heritage in Castlereagh, which retells the story of the war between William of Orange and James II, which culminated in the 1690 Battle of the Boyne. This highlights the institution’s links to border counties such as Monaghan and Cavan. and goes on to explain the formation of the Orange Order and how it evolved and evolved throughout the island.
For many members, it is a place of refuge, a tradition within their families that is sometimes misunderstood. Yet the allegation that it is inherently fanatical is not new to stalwarts like Rev. Gibson.
The order was also widespread within its ranks when the video surfaced online.
“It’s just going to give them one more stick to beat you. When I say that our thoughts are with the McAreavey family, it’s heartfelt, it’s real. I don’t want to hurt anyone by saying the wrong thing. I don’t want to hurt them.” I stand with you and stand with anyone who will condemn it.”
sunday free: When did you know about the video?
Mervyn Gibson: I think it broke [on social media] That night, then on Friday… in the press.
SI: You first learned about it in the media?
mg: Yes, in the media.
SI: Isn’t it surprising that no one in that room picked it up in the days before the media came out?
mg: You see, you’re second guessing, I don’t know what happened in that room. I don’t know if there were 200 in that room and everyone was singing different songs. You know, it’s pre-judging the thing. There are songs about troubles on both sides but it was more than that. It had nothing to do with the trouble.
SI: You are a father. How would you feel if it was about one of your daughters?
mg: It’s just sick. That song was not right on any level. I know how much the family hurts every day and I just can’t lift my head asking someone to write that song.
SI: Have you prayed for the family?
mg: Yes, I have. No doubt.
SIWhat have you actually prayed for?
mg: I have prayed for comfort and that the presence of God is with them, that any injury will be minimized as much as possible because it is obvious that they are hurt. I prayed openly for him in my congregation as well.
A police investigation and an internal investigation within the order are “in progress” as officers try to identify those seen in the video filmed at Orange Hall, Rev. Gibson says. “I believe three people have resigned from the institution over this. I know there are others in the video and anyone found involved will face sanctions from the institution.
He says that he has only “met one person who had heard that song before”.
SI: What damage do you think it has done to the Orange Order?
mg: I think there was a headline in an Irish American newspaper that described it as an Orange Order song.
SI: Was it the Orange Order song?
mg: What have I said? you are not listening It was not part of my culture, my Protestant culture, my federalist culture, my orange culture, my British culture.
“Naive people who are not open-minded will assume that all this is part of the order”, he says. But what of the damage the order is doing to itself?
On top of that, Rev Gibson is full of contradictions. On the one hand, he criticizes members of Sinn Féin, who stand on the public stage with former members of the IRA, yet he feels comfortable doing so himself with former loyalist paramilitaries.
SI: But you are walking shoulder to shoulder with the loyalists, including those convicted of murder.
mg: Whats up?
SIIsn’t it hypocritical for you to say that you don’t want anything to do with people who are former members of the IRA and there you stand with staunch loyalists?
mg: I take issue with them as they are promoting IRA terrorists. I am sitting on the platform with loyalists, but also with IRA members. I have no problem engaging. I hate it when terrorism is glorified.
SI: Even when the loyal attacks are glorified by the loyalists?
He is concerned about the cost of living in the absence of a functioning government, yet supports Stormont’s boycott of the Democratic Unionist Party until the protocol issue is resolved.
SI: We don’t have a working government, are you happy with that?
mg: Sure. I’m not happy Settle the issue of protocol and the government will come back.
SI: You talk about issues, but the cost of living, the health crisis, the cost of fuel – these are the issues.
mg: You’re thinking I don’t care about those issues. I live here, I am part of the community. If you asked me what is more important than protocol, I would say that health and education and protocols will be dealt with once they are resolved. The DUP needs to hold the line.
The Rev Gibson says the protocol has “poisoned relations not only across the border, but within Northern Ireland”.
He wants people of all backgrounds to understand the nuances of the order, yet refuses to allow Sinn Féin First Minister Michelle O’Neill through the doors of headquarters in East Belfast.
SI: What about inviting her to class XII?
mg: If Sinn Féin wanted to stand with everyone and watch, would they be welcomed by the locals? I highly doubt it because of their history but there is no one to stop them.
SI: But would you personally welcome him to this museum?
mg: No, I don’t think I would because of his stance and connection to the Republican movement.
He says there are people who “do not matter what we do”.
“You just have to look at my Twitter feed and you will see. There are people who hate you on every level, it is just pure bigotry and despicable.”
But it begs a valid question: is the Union-flag-waving Protestant Orange Order anti-Catholic? “I would say we are anti-Roman Catholic, not anti-individual,” replies Rev. Gibson.
Is he worried about the future of federalism given the changing demographics?
“I am in the sense that the federalists need to get out and vote. As far as the lie that a united Ireland is just a matter of time, we need to counter those arguments.”
And will one of Northern Ireland’s most senior Orangemen also step into the Republic? “Of course I do. I love Dublin and my father was born in Donegal. In fact, I’ll be back there very soon after a wedding.”