Historic photographs had been removed from an Orange Hall just weeks before it was extensively damaged in an arson attack, it emerged last night.
Furniture was destroyed and serious scorch damage was caused to the inside of Ballinderry Orange Hall during the attack, which took place early on Sunday morning.
It was one of two Orange Halls targeted by vandals in Co Tyrone over the weekend.
In another incident chainsaws were used to cut through the door of a hall at Mulnagore near Pomeroy.
Speaking last night William Jeffers, Master of Ballinderry Loyal Orange Lodge, said members believed the attack on their hall, which is located between Cookstown and Coagh, was sectarian.
“We would have used the hall once a month for lodge meetings,” he said. “The damage is bad enough but fortunately there were old pictures, some going back 100 years, which we had taken out during the summer. Those were irreplaceable and it is good that we have saved them.”
Mid-Ulster MLA Ian McCrea said those responsible were intent on conducting a “cowardly and pathetic campaign of ethnic cleansing” against Protestant people in the area.
“It seems that the mindset of dissident republicans is through attacking Orange Halls and other Protestant property that they will drive the Protestant people out of Mid-Ulster,” he said.
“But how foolish they are — for the resolve of the Protestant and unionist people will not be broken. Attacks on our property will not diminish that but rather unite us in defence of our faith and heritage.
“I would urge those within the Protestant community to step up security around their halls and churches until those responsible for these attacks are brought to justice,” he added.
Ulster Unionist MLA Billy Armstrong condemned the attacks and said they had raised tension in the Mid-Ulster area.
“It is quite clear that there is an undercurrent within the republican community which is hell-bent on attacking the symbols of the local Protestant community or anything which they regard as symbolic of British culture and identity,” he said.
“This same type of bitterness and intolerance of anything British was also evident on the streets of Belfast on Sunday at the homecoming parade for our soldiers from both Northern Ireland and the Republic who have returned from Afghanistan..”
SDLP Assembly member Patsy McGlone said the “reckless actions” of those responsible would be “widely condemned by all right thinking people.”
Police are investigating the attacks and have appealed for anyone with information to contact them on 0845 600 8000.