Orange Order hits back over reports putting halls ‘at risk’

Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland Edward Stevenson pictured outside the Museum of Orange Heritage in Loughgall, Co Armagh

Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland Edward Stevenson pictured outside the Museum of Orange Heritage in Loughgall, Co Armagh

Press coverage of government grants for cultural societies linked to Orange halls could increase the risk of sectarian vandalism, the Orange Order has said.

The Order’s grand master, Edward Stevenson, said around 500 Orange halls had been attacked since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement with more than 30 destroyed – and claimed one of the media reports present the facts “in such a way which insinuates that there is something unusual about the Orange community applying for funding or worse, that there is wrong doing on behalf of the applicants.”

Our halls have been maintained despite a targeted, sustained, and sectarian campaign of violence

Last week, the Irish News highlighted a discrepancy in the postal address of Randalstown Orange Hall, calling into question the bona fides of the town’s Ulster Scots Cultural Society.

Two prominent articles over two days pointed out that the address listed for receipt of a £25,000 ‘community hall’ grant – 10 Portglenone Road – did not appear on Royal Mail records.

However, the same group, using the same address, has previously attracted grants totalling more than £60,000 from the Big Lottery Fund and the NI Executive. The money has been used to upgrade the property for wider community use, including disabled access.

In Tuesday’s edition, the same paper published details of cultural societies based at five Orange halls, including Randalstown, that received grants totalling £104,000 from the Department for Communities.

In an open letter to the Irish News, Mr Stevenson said: “We are a province-wide community organisation with a large number of halls, many of which have had no previous funding. As such, it is entirely to be expected that our groups should be represented in both the amount of applications made and the awards secured. Our halls and the community activities they facilitate have been maintained despite a targeted, sustained, and sectarian campaign of violence, waged by republicans on Orange property.”

Mr Stevenson added: “The recent highlighting of halls which are committed to improving their facilities could be seen as providing a road map for those who wish to continue these attacks. One of these properties has been regularly targeted in the past. As a result I intend to speak to senior PSNI officers to advise them of our concerns regarding these stories and the potential of an increased level of attacks on our halls.

“The degree of attention devoted to singularly highlighting these funding successes by our members, by creating hype around the fact that a 94-year-old Orange hall isn’t on the postal register and now, highlighting the entirely legal and logical relationship between the owners of some properties and the groups who regularly use them raises a number of issues.

“The Orange Institution, like wider society supports a free press – but we also expect a fair press in return.”

A spokesman for the Irish News said: “The paper stands over its coverage.”