ANGRY Orangemen last night told Secretary of State Shaun Woodward
that the St Andrews Agreement is not delivering for Protestants.
As tensions rise over the increasing number of attacks and burnings of halls, an Orange delegation - including DUP figures Jeffrey Donaldson, David Simpson and Culture Minister Edwin Poots - went to the gates of Hillsborough Castle to hand-deliver a letter of protest.
Frustration within the ranks of the Institution - representing tens of thousands of unionists - spilled over within the correspondence, signed by Grand Master Robert Saulters.
It said there has been a failure to deal with the continuing sectarian attacks on halls - after more incidents at the weekend, in Portadown and near Lisburn brought the number of attacks this year to almost 30.
The letter also claimed the PSNI is failing to combat the problem; and accused the government of reneging on an agreement to ensure the halls have insurance cover.
But the line in the letter that will cause most concern was: "these ongoing attacks and the absence of an adequate Government response to them has led the Institution to doubt what practical benefits the St Andrews Agreement and the subsequent establishment of a devolved Assembly have brought to our community."
The Saulters' letter also said: "The police clearance rate for attacks on Orange halls is a derisory 0.8 per cent. I believe that this is the lowest clearance rate for any crime in Northern Ireland.
"There is a very widely held belief within the Protestant community that if almost 30 GAA halls or sports facilities had been burnt this year then both the Government and the police response would have been entirely different. I share that view."
The letter then moved on to the problem of halls being unable to claim insurance for the damage they are suffering.
The Institution is angry that a pledge by former Secretary of State Peter Hain (in February) to make it easier to claim insurance
has not been followed through. The NIO noted that Security Minister
Paul Goggins met Orange leaders in Portadown yesterday – on the compensation issue – and said the matter was being addressed.
But Mr Saulters said he "detected a growing sense of anger amongst the
membership of the Institution, anger which I share, in view of the duplicitous way we have been treated by the Northern Ireland Office in relation to this matter". In order to claim insurance, halls need
either a Chief Constable's Certificate, specifying an attack by a paramilitary organisation or they need proof that an incident was carried out by three people or more.
The Institution claims the PSNI certificate has become harder to come by during the peace process because it believes there is less willingness to blame any terror group or less intelligence available
due to a reduction in informers.
The Order requested a meeting with Mr Woodward and is due to meet Sir Hugh Orde on Friday.
A PSNI spokesman said: "We are aware of the concerns expressed by the Orange Order and want to assure them that we view these attacks seriously.
"Each incident is robustly investigated and all available evidence is obtained with a view to making any identified perpetrators accountable through the criminal justice system."