A loyalist paramilitary group has said it was behind a weekend arson attack which destroyed a GAA clubhouse in Co Tyrone.
The Orange Volunteers said the blaze at premises belonging to Edendork GAA Club was started in retaliation for two attacks on Orange halls in recent weeks.
The clubhouse, located on the Coalisland Road outside Dungannon, was completely destroyed in the blaze which took place during the early hours of Saturday morning.
The chairman of Edendork St Malachy’s, Peter O’Connor, said the building was an important community resource which was used by other groups.
“It is very upsetting and everyone has been left in shock,” he said. “This clubhouse was the focal point of the local community and a lot of people are going to suffer because it will be out of action for some time.”
The chairman of the Tyrone County Board, Pat Darcy, said the GAA fraternity was united in its support for the Edendork club and appealed for no reprisals.
“This attack on Edendork clubhouse is to be utterly condemned.
“A GAA club is at the heart of a community and this clubhouse was a meeting place for other groups. When people try to destroy it they are taking away an important resource from that community.
“Unfortunately this comes after two Orange halls were attacked and that is to be utterly condemned as well. These seemingly tit-for-tat attacks must stop because they are getting us nowhere.”
It took four hours for the fire to be brought under control and the fire service said early indications were that an accelerant had been used.
On Saturday evening a caller claiming to represent the Orange Volunteers, a group thought to comprise former UVF militants, contacted the UTV newsroom in Belfast to claim responsibility.
The caller said the blaze was in retaliation for an arson attack which destroyed Ballinderry Orange hall in Co Tyrone last Sunday and an attack on Ballywillwill Orange hall in Co Down at the end of September.
Local DUP Assembly member Maurice Morrow described the attack as “mindless vandalism” and said a small minority were intent on raising tensions in the East Tyrone area.
“Whoever was responsible for this attack is doing their community no service whatsoever,” he said. “This sort of mindless attack is an attempt to drag us back to past times which we have thankfully left behind.
“This sort of nonsense is to be condemned without reservation. It has destroyed a building which was an important community resource and the people responsible do not realise the impact which their mindless vandalism has had.
“It is a deeply irresponsible act which is to be deplored by all right-thinking people and I would urge anyone with information to come forward.”
Station Commander David Lawrence from the Fire and Rescue Service said the fire had taken hold by the time they arrived and it had been too dangerous for firefighters to enter the building.
“It had been burning for such a long time that the roof had actually collapsed on top of the first floor,” he said. “The building was completely destroyed and when we left it, it was basically a shell.”
Debris from around the pitch area was cleared away in order to allow a game between Edendork and Pomeroy to go ahead on Saturday morning, and the club has vowed not to let the attack disrupt the conclusion to its season.
Police officers investigating the attack have appealed for anyone with information to contact them on 0845 600 8000.