Attacking an Orange hall is a hate crime, pure and simple. So why is there no public outcry?
The Loyal Orders have been targeted 21 times this year. The result? Deafening silence, says Nelson McCausland
Earlier this week, another Orange hall was the target for a sectarian arson attack. The little hall, at Salterstown in Co Londonderry, was badly damaged by the fire, and the lodge banner, collarettes and musical instruments belonging to a local band were destroyed in the blaze.
The hall has been there for more than 100 years and has been an important part of community life — just like so many other Orange halls across Northern Ireland and in the Irish Republic and Scotland.
The lodge will now set about repairing the hall, just as hundreds of other Orange lodges have had to do.
However, they will be deprived of their hall for a considerable period of time and may well have lost artefacts that cannot be replaced.
The activities in the hall will be disrupted and their energies diverted towards the restoration.
There will also be a cost to the brethren, as any money recouped may not meet the entire cost of the new building.
This was the 21st attack on an Orange hall in Northern Ireland this year and yet, apart from some coverage in the local media, many of these attacks pass almost unnoticed.
If there had been 21 attacks on Roman Catholic churches, or Presbyterian churches this year, it would have become a major headline and not just at a local level, but also at a national or international level.
Society has become so accustomed to attacks on Orange halls — because there have been so many attacks — that they pass almost unnoticed outside of the local community and the Orange family.
These halls are far more than just buildings. They are important to the Orange lodges, but they are also important to the wider community.
Many of them are used by community, cultural and historical groups, and they open their doors to churches, keep-fit classes, dance classes and musical tuition.
An attack on a hall is an attack on the life of the community, as well as the lodge.
During the Troubles, there were attacks on buildings associated with the Protestant community, including churches and Orange halls, as well as attacks on buildings associated with the Roman Catholic community, such as GAA clubs and churches.
Thankfully, those days are largely behind us, but the sectarian campaign against Orange halls has not come to an end.
This year, one Orange hall in Tyrone was targeted three times in a matter of weeks, with the first of the attacks being attempted arson.
In Co Armagh, an oil tank at an Orange hall was set alight in an attempt to destroy the hall and, in Dervock, a bus outside an Orange hall was destroyed by arsonists.
Other halls have been subjected to paint bomb attacks and covered with republican and sectarian graffiti.
The number and nature of the attacks demonstrates clearly that these are sectarian hate crimes.
They are also the outworking of the republican campaign of demonisation against the Orange Order.
According to Gerry Adams, 1992 was the year when Sinn Fein ramped up its campaign of opposition to Orange parades, and that year is very significant.
In the 25 years prior to July 1992, 39 Orange halls were burnt. But in the 10 years after July 1992, 192 Orange halls were burnt. That represented a 12-fold increase in attacks.
This situation is of such a scale that it requires a coherent and strategic approach. The PSNI need all the assistance they can get to apprehend the culprits, but policing alone will not stop this.
As a society, we also need to confront the sectarian attitudes against the Orange Institution, which lead on to sectarian attacks on Orange halls. That is something in which the good relations sector, politicians, the media, schools, commentators and many others have a role to play.
It is only through confronting the root problem of sectarian hatred towards the Orange Institution that we will be able to address these sectarian attacks, which are the result of deep-rooted hatred.