One of the reasons many oppose Orange Order marches, is due to their close links with militant Ulster loyalism. Some bands that appear at Orange marches openly display support for loyalist paramilitary groups, either by carrying paramilitary flags or having paramilitary names and emblems on their banners. A notable example being the Cloughfern Young Conquerors band, of which prominent loyalist John Gregg was a member and the Coleraine based Freeman Memorial, named in memory of a UVF member who died when the bomb he was transporting exploded prematurely.
The banner of Old Boyne Island Heroes Orange lodge bears the names of John Bingham and Shankill Butcher Robert Bates, who were both members. Another Shankill Butcher, Eddie McIlwaine, was pictured taking part in an Orange march in 2003 with a bannerette of dead UVF volunteer Brian Robinson (who himself was an Orangeman). Other prominent loyalist militants who were also members of the Orange Order included Gusty Spence, Robert Bates, Davy Payne,David Ervine, John Bingham,George Seawright, Richard Jameson, Billy McCaughey, Ernie Elliott, andRobert McConnell.
On 12 July 1972, at least fifty members of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) escorted an Orange march into the Catholic area of Portadown. The UDA members were dressed in paramilitary uniforms and saluted the Orangemen as they passed. That year, Orangemen formed a paramilitary group called the Orange Volunteers. This group "bombed a pub in Belfast in 1973 but otherwise did little illegal other than collect the considerable bodies of arms found in Belfast Orange Halls".
When a July 1992 Orange Order march passed the scene of the Sean Graham bookmakers' shooting carried out by the UDA, Orangemen shouted pro-UDA slogans and held aloft five fingers as a taunt to residents over the five deaths. The claim is corroborated by Henry McDonald and Jim Cusack. They said that the images of Orangemen and loyalist flute band members holding up five fingers as they passed the shop were beamed around the world and were a public relations disaster for the Order.Patrick Mayhew, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said that the actions of the marchers "would have disgraced a tribe of cannibals". McDonald and Cusack also contend that the incident led to a more concerted effort by Lower Ormeau residents to have the marches banned from the area, which later happened. In 2007, a brother of one the victims demanded an apology from the Orange Order after a banner commemorating UFF member Joe Bratty appeared at a Twelfth parade. Bratty was said to have orchestrated the attack at Sean Graham's bookermakers.
In the early years of The Troubles, the Order's Grand Secretary in Scotland trawled Orange lodges for volunteers to "go to Ulster to fight". Thousands are alleged to have "answered the call", although the UVF said it "did not yet need them". In 1976, senior Orangemen in Scotland tried to expel leading UDA member Roddy MacDonald after he said on television that he "would be happy to buy arms and ship them to Ulster". However, his expulsion was blocked by 300 delegates at a special disciplinary hearing.
Portadown Orangemen allowed known militants such as George Seawright to take part in a 6 July 1986 march, contrary to a prior agreement. Seawright was a unionist politician and UVF member who had publicly proposed burning Catholics in ovens. As the march entered the town's Catholic district, the RUC seized Seawright and other known militants. The Orangemen attacked the officers with stones and other missiles.
During November 1999, in a raid on Stoneyford Orange Hall, which the Irish Times has reported as a focal point for the Orange Volunteers,police found military documents with the personal details of over 300 Irish republicans.This led to two Orangemen being convicted for possession of "documents likely to be of use to terrorists", possession of an automatic rifle, and membership in the outlawed Orange Volunteers. Their Orange lodge refused to expel them.
In 2004, police found a weapons stash at the home of an Orangeman in Liverpool. He and two other Orangemen were later jailed for possession of weapons and UVF membership. In 2006, a local Labour Party Member of Parliament, Louise Ellman, called for the members to be expelled from the Order.
An Orangeman and DUP election candidate with links to the Real UFF in Antrim was jailed in 2013 for his part in a sectarian attack on a Polish family.His membership of the Orange Order was terminated.
The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland likes to issue statements condemning violence and paramilitarism for PR purposes.Young Orangemen are urged to join the RUC/psni (police) who then join paramilitaries".
Comparisons with the Ku Klux Klan
Irish people compare the Orange Order marching through their villages to the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) marching through an African American neighbourhood. The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association of the 1960s–1970s, described them as "Britain's Ku Klux Klan" who wrote to Fionnbarra Ó Dochartaigh:
|“||We viewed the [Orange Order] as similar to the KKK – so bare-faced and confident enough in the bigoted status quo that they wore bowler hats and sashes rather than white robes and pointed hoods.||”|
Irish writer and historian Tim Pat Coogan said that in America, the Order manifested itself in movements such as the Know Nothings and the KKK and that employers also used as a tool for keeping Protestant and Catholic workers from uniting for better wages and conditions. Many Orangemen joined the nativist Know Nothings to oppose 19th-century Catholic immigration in the northeastern United States. During the Klan's rebirth in the 1920s, members of fraternal organisations such as the Orange Order were courted by Klan organizers in the United States and Canada, where the Klan also sought recruits from such groups as the Masons, the Oddfellows, the Knights of Pythias, the Salvation Army and the Rotary Club.