An arson attack on a rural Orange hall was an attempt to raise tension and set the community at loggerheads, police have claimed.
Extensive damage was caused to Bonn Orange hall near Pomeroy in Co Tyrone after it was set ablaze during the early hours of yesterday morning.
There have been more than 300 arson attacks on Orange halls in recent years, leading to claims that attempts at building community relations are being undermined.
The latest attack took place at around 3am yesterday, gutting the roof and top floor of the historic hall.
Sinn Fein MP and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness led condemnation of the attack, claiming it was motivated by “sectarian bigotry”.
PSNI Supt Alywin Barton said the arsonists’ motive was to provoke retaliation, and urged no-one to seek revenge.
“We believe this was an attempt to trigger an escalation of community tension in the area and set local communities at loggerheads,” he said.
“Provoking a reaction, causing injury and damaging property is all that those behind these attacks have to offer — and that is in stark contrast to the positive contribution that cultural and sporting facilities make to community life, particularly in rural areas.”
Two years ago a spate of attacks in east Tyrone saw eight Orange halls and GAA clubs targeted, and police have appealed for calm after the latest incident.
“To get caught up in a cycle of revenge attacks serves no-one’s purpose — except that of those who want to sow the seeds of division and strife,” Mr Barton added.
“Do not allow yourself to be manipulated by these individuals and their agenda, do not react.”
Richard Reid, a trustee of Bonn Orange hall, also appealed for no retaliation.
“An eye for an eye leaves everyone blind — retaliation would serve no benefit,” he said. The hall had been extensively damaged in an arson attack in November 2008, but Mr Reid is determined to carry on.
“Each attack has been a deliberate attempt to try and wipe the hall off the map,” he added.
“They may have succeeded in destroying the structure this time, but it will be our intention to replace it with another building.”
Mr McGuinness said the attack was “clearly aimed” at raising tensions before this weekend’s Apprentice Boys parades.
“Those who carried it out are motivated solely by sectarian bigotry,” he said.
“They are no different to those who carry out attacks on GAA halls, churches and other cultural and community facilities. They do not reflect the community in Pomeroy or the wider area.”
Ulster Unionist MLA Billy Armstrong said the attack was intended to intimidate the unionist community.
“The determined efforts of a few to destroy and bully will not be tolerated,” he said.
DUP MLA Ian McCrea said it was a “blatant sectarian attack” which “speaks volumes” about the level of tolerance amongst some republicans for the Orange Order or anything Protestant.
Patsy McGlone of the SDLP said the arsonists had nothing to offer society but copy the failed campaign of the past.