Protestants 'under threat' as hall attacked

PETROL bombers who launched the latest arson attack on an Orange Hall have been branded "sectarian thugs".

Senior Assembly members hit out after two youths tried to torch a hall on Main Street, Rasharkin, in north Antrim.

Police are hunting the pair, aged between 18 and 20, who were seen hurling petrol bombs at the building at around 2am on Saturday.

The hall sustained scorch damage and local politicians said it was part of a spate of attacks that have left the Protestant community feeling under siege.

John Finlay, mayor of nearby Ballymoney, said unionists in the area had been targeted more than a dozen times so far this year.

"This is the latest in a long line of attacks on Protestant homes, churches and Orange halls in Rasharkin and the community feels seriously under threat," he said.

"There have in fact been 14 such attacks this year – action needs to be taken."

The mayor called on Sinn Fein to "step up" and help stop the attacks and encourage people to give any information to police.

North Antrim DUP Assembly-man Mervyn Storey blasted the attack as mindless sectarianism.

"Yet again Rasharkin Orange Hall has been attacked – this time with two petrol bombs. Clearly those involved in this incident were intent on causing maximum damage to the property," he said.

Mr Storey also claimed it was part of an escalating spate of attacks.

"Recently we had a car belonging to a young Protestant in the village damaged, numerous tricolours have been erected along with other flags prior to a republican paradelast Sunday,creating tension and causing fear andconcern to the Protestant community in the village," he said.

"The small minorityinvolved in this sectarian thuggery must get the message that they do not represent the majority of the people of Rasharkin and that they will not succeed in whatever is their bigoted and sectarianobjective."

The Orange hall on Main Street has been targeted repeatedly in the past two years.

During the July 12 celebrations in 2008 the building was scorched in an arson attack and paint was thrown at it.

And an Orange parade in the village last year was delayed by a bomb hoax.

Local SDLP Assembly member, Declan O'Loan has warned the attacks – including a recent one on a Catholic-owned pub – could start a dangerous downward spiral of tit-for-tat violence in the area.