Sinn Fein condemns Orange Order hall arsonists: Martin McGuinness slams 'bigots' but Order says party can do more to stop attacks
Martin McGuinness has fiercely attacked those behind the arson attack on an Orange hall as "sectarian bigots".
Writing for the Belfast Telegraph, the Deputy First Minister said: "The people behind this attack have nothing to offer any community and are totally out of step with the vast majority of people who are disgusted by this type of action. Those responsible are sectarian bigots."
The senior Sinn Fein figure said he could understand and accept the frustration and anger of the Orange Order over the attack on the hall, which is just a few miles from a new museum opened by the Order this week.
Orange chiefs, however, are treating the gutting of Ballytyrone hall, near the museum at Loughgall in Co Armagh, as a coincidence and have appealed for calm. But the destruction near the birthplace of Orangeism will be seen as an attempt to ratchet up tensions in the run-up to the peak of the marching season on the Twelfth of July.
The roof of the hall, which has been targeted in the past, collapsed after flammable liquid was poured through a window and set alight just before midnight on Thursday.
The isolated property at Creenagh Road is the 61st Orange hall to have been destroyed since the start of the Troubles in 1969, although almost all of them have been rebuilt.
Mr McGuinness branded the attack a "disgrace" in a tweet, and Sinn Fein MP Mickey Brady called it a "sectarian hate crime", but said he expected the entire community to rally to ensure the hall was quickly restored.
Mr Brady, who visited the scene yesterday, added: "Those people who deliberately targeted and destroyed an Orange hall offer nothing to any community and do not represent the vast majority of people in the area, who are disgusted."
Director of services for the Grand Orange Lodge David Hume insisted, however, that despite the condemnation of Mr McGuinness and Mr Brady, "more needs to be done".
"Over 330 members of the Orange Institution were murdered during the Troubles, the majority of them by republicans. We have yet to hear the remorse of Sinn Fein in relation to that loss as an institution.
"Such an expression would be a clear message to both the Orange family and to those who attack Orange halls.
"We also see continued issues over our parades. Republican opposition to parades helps to create the conditions where the Orange Order is demonised.
"That leads some within the republican community to decide that burning us out is acceptable."
Church of Ireland Bishop Harold Miller, who chairs its Northern Ireland Community Relations Working Group, sharply criticised the arson attack.
He said it was a "wholly unacceptable and disgraceful sectarian act" and deeply unhelpful to community relations, particularly at this time of year.
"Like others, I would call on everyone in Northern Ireland to respect one another's community traditions and value one another," he added, urging anyone with any information to pass it on to the PSNI.
Grand secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland Drew Nelson said: "Clearly there are still some in Northern Ireland society who are prepared to use violence to attack the Orange Institution. However, we can assure everyone that this hall will be rebuilt, probably bigger and better than it was before."
But he added: "We would also make an appeal for calm right across the community, and in particular that there should be no retaliation whatsoever for this attack. We, as an institution, would not wish any community to suffer from such violence, having sustained so many attacks on our properties over the years."
Former Armagh GAA star Jarlath Burns was among those at the opening of the museum at Sloan's House in Loughgall where the institution was formed in 1795 following the nearby Battle of the Diamond between Protestant and Catholic gangs.