Unionists are protesting about the ongoing campaign of attacks on Orange Halls. An Orange delegation – including DUP figures Jeffrey Donaldson, David Simpson and Culture Minister Edwin Poots went to the gates of Hillsborough Castle to hand-deliver a letter of protest. Grand Master Robert Saulters has also written a letter of protest, and has been given column inches in the unionist newspapers to air his grievances.
At the same time, DUP First Minister Ian Paisley said he was deeply concerned about attacks on Orange halls which have the hallmarks of a blatant sectarian hate campaign against the Protestant community.
To listen to the fuss in the unionist press one might think that people were being killed, or that the security of Orange Halls was the most pressing issue of the day.
However, almost simultaneously, a series of attacks on a school (and here) have gone entirely unprotested by the unionist politicians. The attacks, for which loyalists are being openly blamed, are apparently a response to a visit to the school by Caitriona Ruane, Minister for Education. It seems that the mere presence of the legally appointed Minister, a colleague of Messrs Paisley and Poots, is sufficient cause for some people to try to destroy a school and deny its pupils an education – even though the school is in a unionist area! And yet the unionist politicians are silent! What are their priorities? Are halls used by one section of the population a greater priority than the education of their own children? Are vandals only a pressing issue if the victims are Orangemen, rather than children? Why are the unionist politicians not more incensed by the attacks on Milburn Primary School?
In his tirade, Orange Order Grand Master Robert Saulters said that "there is a very widely held belief within the Protestant community that if almost 30 GAA halls or sports facilities had been burnt this year then both the Government and the police response would have been entirely different. I share that view".
This kind of false equivalence between the openly sectarian Orange Order and the anti-sectarian, but clearly nationalist, GAA has been used by unionists and loyalists in the past to justify, or excuse, attacks on the GAA. It is worth watching very closely in the coming weeks to see if Mr Saulters words have the effect of 'inspiring' loyalist bigots to carry out reciprocal attacks on GAA premises. And if they do, will the unionist politicians be outraged? Or will they, as so often, let their silence speak for them?