Outrage as Somme remembrance flag is ripped down
A Battle of the Somme remembrance flag has been stolen - hours after it was erected at an Orange Hall in Co Londonderry.
Two flags, and the poles to which they were attached, were ripped down from Ballyneal Orange Hall, near Magherafelt, in the early hours of Saturday.
The Union and Somme remembrance flags had been put up only hours beforehand.
The flags theft follows a failed arson attempt at the Brookmount Road property in May.
This latest incident took place a day after paint and graffiti attacks on two Orange halls in Banbridge, and less than a week after an attempted arson attack at Muckery hall in Co Armagh.
A total of 13 halls have been targeted in reported incidents so far this year.
An Orange Order spokesman condemned the flag theft as “shameful”.
He said: “Due to its rural and isolated location, Ballyneal hall would be regarded as an easy target for the intolerant culprits wishing to engage in such low-life criminality.
“Nonetheless, this does not excuse their misdemeanours under the cover of darkness.
“Any form of disrespect for the Union flag is appalling and must be condemned.
“However, it is abhorrent that a flag commemorating the centenary of Battle of the Somme, recognising the loss of all who paid the supreme sacrifice — regardless of background, colour or creed — should be treated with such disdain.
“Those responsible ought to be utterly ashamed of their actions.”
Mid Ulster DUP MLA Keith Buchanan also condemned the incident.
“This is clearly a hate crime motivated by sectarianism and unfortunately follows a number of similar attacks to halls across the province,” he said.
“Over this weekend people have been marking the service and sacrifice of those from all traditions who fought at the Battle of the Somme. It is particularly disgraceful therefore that a Somme remembrance flag was one of those ripped down in this attack.
“I would urge anyone with information to contact the police so that those responsible might be brought to justice.”
The Orange Institution has appealed for anyone with any information in relation to the Ballyneal flags theft to contact the police as a matter of urgency.
A PSNI spokesman said they received a report about the stolen flags at around 10pm on Saturday.
Sergeant Tate from the Local Policing Team has confirmed police are treating it as a hate crime and are asking anyone who was in the area and noticed the flags being removed, or any other unusual activity, to contact police at Magherafelt on 101.