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Orange hall hate attacks must cease, says Arlene Foster

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 20/02/2016

Arlene Foster examines the damage with worshipful master William Ross
Arlene Foster examines the damage with worshipful master William Ross
Arlene Foster speaks to the media

First Minister Arlene Foster has called for an end to "unacceptable" attacks on Orange halls.

The DUP leader was speaking after visiting Strawletterdallon hall near Newtownstewart, which has been attacked twice in recent days. Five windows, including door panels, were smashed in the first incident, which was discovered on Wednesday night.

The Orange Order said more windows were smashed at about 7pm on Thursday.

It claimed the attack was part of a "hate campaign" against the local Protestant community.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the vandalism was "deplorable".

Yesterday Mrs Foster, accompanied by local DUP councillor Allan Bresland, visited the hall to view the damage and speak to lodge members. She said: "Strawletterdallon is a prime example of how many Orange halls are community hubs, particularly in rural areas.

"This is an attack on the entire community and I welcome the strong words from many different quarters in response to it.

"It is important, though, that such solidarity is not just displayed in the aftermath of an attack. We regularly see opposition to loyal order parades.

"Its members are often described as sectarian and as bigots.

"Alongside the rightful condemnation of attacks on property, we need to hear condemnation of such verbal attacks on the institution and its members also. The Orange Institution is a valuable part of the fabric of life in Northern Ireland and we should all send out a message that attacks on its property or members are simply unacceptable."

Nearly all the windows in the hall were damaged.

The grand master of the Grand Orange Lodge said the repairs were likely to be very expensive.

Edward Stevenson said the people behind the attacks had "nothing to offer society".

"They attacked a very vulnerable hall sitting at the side of the road, a very easy target," he said.

"But what started off as a hate crime earlier in the week is vast becoming a campaign, with the second attack in as many days on this hall."

The vandalism drew condemnation from Sinn Fein.

Mr McGuinness wrote on Twitter: "I deplore the two recent attacks on Newtownstewart Orange hall. Those responsible for this sectarianism are despicable and represent no one."

Michaela Boyle, a Sinn Fein MLA for West Tyrone, called for the assaults to cease.

"This is the second attack on this hall in recent days and the people who are carrying out these attacks will not succeed in raising tensions and need to stop," she said. "This hall is an asset as it is used for a range of activities servicing a rural community.

"The attacks are simply sectarian and those involved have nothing to offer our society."

Ulster Unionist MLA Ross Hussey said those responsible will not succeed in dividing people.

"This hall is a valuable community resource in a rural area and it is used extensively by a wide range of groups," he said.

"Such mindless attacks are designed to whip up community tensions and create divisions, which the people responsible can exploit further."

The Orange Order called for an increased police presence in the area.

"Given the similarities with the previous attack, there is little doubt that the perpetrators have reverted to type and once again, under the cover of darkness, brazenly re-engaged in their wicked deeds," the spokesman added.

"The sheer audacity of these criminals knows no bounds.

"Despite such destructive sectarian behaviour, the Orange fraternity in and around Newtownstewart will not be deterred by a minority rump whose futile activities are not representative of the wider community. We urge those responsible to think again and immediately desist."

Strawletterdallon hall was previously targeted in an arson attack. The Orange Order said nine halls were attacked during 2015.

Belfast Telegraph

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