First Minister visits Orange hall after two attacks in three days

First Minister Arlene Foster surveys the damage at Strawletterdallon Orange hall, near Newtownstewart in Co Tyrone
First Minister Arlene Foster surveys the damage at Strawletterdallon Orange hall, near Newtownstewart in Co Tyrone

First Minister Arlene Foster has visited a Co Tyrone Orange hall which has been subjected to a ‘hate campaign’ in the past week.

Windows were smashed at the front of Strawletterdallon Orange Hall on the Plumbridge Road, Newtownstewart at around 7.30pm on Thursday.

On Tuesday, windows at the rear of the building were smashed.

The PSNI clarified that both attacks were being treated as hate crimes, with the Orange Order describing it as a “hate campaign” against the local Protestant community.

Both unionists and Sinn Fein strongly condemned those responsible.

Following her visit on Friday, Mrs Foster said: “This is not my first visit to this hall. I attended an event here recently where I was impressed at improvements made by the lodge to the hall following previous attacks on it.

“Strawletterdallon is a prime example of how many Orange halls are community hubs – particularly in rural areas.

“This is an attack on the entire community and I welcome the strong words from many different quarters in response to it.

“It is important, though, that such solidarity is not just displayed in the aftermath of an attack. We regularly see opposition to Loyal Order parades.

“Its members are often described as sectarian and as bigots. Alongside the rightful condemnation of attacks on property, we need to hear condemnation of such verbal attacks on the institution and its members.

“The Orange Institution is a valuable part of the fabric of life in Northern Ireland and we should all send out a message that attacks on its property or members are simply unacceptable.”

An Orange Order spokesman also condemned the latest incident, stating that a hate crime had now become a ‘hate campaign’ against the local Protestant community.

He called for a greater and more noticeable police presence in the area to deter such criminal activities and prevent possible further and more serious damage to the rural property.

“Given the similarities with the previous attack, there is little doubt that the perpetrators have reverted to type and, once again, under the cover of darkness, brazenly re-engaged in their wicked deeds,” he said. “The sheer audacity of these criminals knows no bounds.

“Despite such destructive sectarian behaviour, the Orange fraternity in and around Newtownstewart will not be deterred by a minority rump whose futile activities are not representative of the wider community. We urge those responsible to think again and immediately desist.”

Police said that two men were charged with attacks on the hall in 2011. It is understood both lived some 12 miles away.

Local sources confirmed there was “a very good cross-community spirit” in the mixed area of Newtownstewart which persisted throughout the Troubles. It is understood there is minor opposition to some parades going through some parts of the town over the summer.

Police have appealed for information on tel 101.