The Orange Order and the the Protestant “Caliban” of Northern Ireland
Established in 1998 the Caleb Foundation (https://web.archive.org/web/20150307200052/http://www.calebfoundation.org/) is the leading creationist pressure group in Northern Ireland.
It also lobbies on a range of social policy issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage from an evangelical Protestant perspective, and has been particularly influential with Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive.
The Foundation describes its mission as “promoting the fundamentals of the historic evangelical Protestant faith”.
Structure, leadership and influence
The Foundation is led by a “Council of Reference” including ministers, pastors and other activists from a variety of small Protestant sects.
The largest single denomination represented is the Free Presbyterian Church founded by Rev. Ian Paisley, with others including the Congregational Union of Ireland, the Evangelical Presbyterian, Independent Methodist, Baptist, Reformed Presbyterian, Congregational Reformed and Elim Pentecostal churches, the Church of the Nazarene and the Evangelical Protestant Society.
Its first chairman, until his death in 2007, was George Dawson, an activist in Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and a DUP MLA. He was also Grand Master of the Independent Orange Order and Treasurer of the Evangelical Protestant Society.
Its secretary for some time after the launch in 1998, David McConaghie acted until late 2012 as its press spokesman, and held other offices in the Foundation’s Council of Reference.
Wallace Thompson of the Evangelical Protestant Society, became chairman of the Foundation in September 2009. A founding member of the DUP, he is also an Orangeman, a former Northern Ireland Office civil servant, and a former ministerial adviser to Nigel Dodds. It was while employed in the last role, in 2008, that Thompson in a radio interview denounced the Pope as the Antichrist.
Documenting the influence of the Foundation within Northern Ireland unionist politics, and particularly the DUP, the Belfast Telegraph noted in 2012 that many DUP politicians had close links to the Foundation.
A leading Irish journalist wrote that “Caleb plays a role within the DUP analogous to the old Militant tendency within the Labour party.”
And in 2012, the Irish press noted that Caleb “claims a support base of 200,000 evangelicals” and questioned whether it had “overtaken the Orange Order as the most influential pressure group within Unionism”.
The Foundation’s lobbying to have public bodies give at least equal coverage to creationist beliefs as to scientific evidence of evolution came to attention in 1999, when McConaghie wrote in the Belfast News Letter in response to the BBC television series Walking with Dinosaurs, calling for “equal prominence to be given to the Creation creed”.
In 2006 McConaghie met senior officers of the Police Service of Northern Ireland to discuss the Foundation’s request that figures for ‘gay-on-gay’ violence in Northern Ireland be collated and published, and that police figures for ‘cohabiting same-sex’ domestic violence be made available to the Foundation “for analysis”.
In 2008 the Foundation’s spokesman called for the banning of the Belfast Gay Pride parade, complaining of the “gratuitously offensive and deliberately provocative behaviour emanating from participants”.
Also in 2008, the Foundation’s website carried a photograph of a shop window display in Enniskillen and asked: “Is one of Northern Ireland’s leading clothes chains promoting homosexuality?”, pointing out “a pair of female mannikins in the window of an Enniskillen store, holding hands.”
DUP minister Nelson McCausland wrote to the Ulster Museum in 2010 calling for creationist theories to be included in its natural history displays which described evolution as fact.
In 2010 the British Centre for Science Education published an 11,000-word report which accused the Foundation of promoting Christian fascism and Dominionism, aiming to make Northern Ireland a “fundamentalist Protestant theocracy”.
In 2011-12 the Foundation’s press officer, David McConaghie, by then a full-time DUP official, successfully lobbied two DUP minister colleagues in the Northern Ireland Executive – McCausland and Arlene Foster – to have “creationist” theories included in displays at the new visitor centre at the Giant’s Causeway.
However, following widespread objections to the creationist content, the National Trust removed the “creationist” display in October 2012.
The Foundation has also lobbied for more representation by evangelical churches on BBC Northern Ireland, and opposes any relaxation of:
Sunday trading laws
An extension of gay rights
A Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast
McConaghie met senior personnel from education bodies to lobby for the inclusion of a creationist viewpoint in the Northern Ireland curriculum.
Other issues on which the Caleb Foundation has lobbied include:
A reform of prostitution laws.
Raising the retail price of alcohol.
Limiting pub opening hours.
Opposing any review of abortion laws to include rape and foetal abnormality.
Banning gay adoption.
Whilst it did not specifically lobby for a ban on blood donation by gay men, it “approved of the position of the minister” Edwin Poots in retaining the ban.
In November 2012 the Caleb Foundation announced that McConaghie had “voluntarily stepped down” from his role as its press officer, after he was arrested and charged with concealing a camera in a toilet cubicle for purposes of sexual gratification.
In October 2015, McConaghie who used a secret camera to spy on women in toilets, was convicted of voyeurism. (Wikipedia)