Orange hall attacks: Robust response needed now

The attack on Salterstown Orange hall, near Ballyronan, was the 21st on an Orange property this year
The attack on Salterstown Orange hall, near Ballyronan, was the 21st on an Orange property this year

Images of the charred remains of Salterstown Orange hall, extensively damaged in an arson attack earlier this week, whilst shocking are a depressingly familiar and recurring sight.

No-one can even begin to comprehend the emotions of lodge members when they witnessed for themselves the scene of absolute devastation left in the aftermath by the delinquents responsible.

Unfortunately, criminal acts of this nature targeting Orange property are regarded as par for the course, such is their increasing regularity.

Indeed, so far this year there have been a total of 21 separate reported attacks on our network of halls across Northern Ireland. To put that in perspective, approximately one Orange property has been targeted every 11 days in 2016.

And no part of the Province is immune to such sectarian hatred, with halls in all six counties having been pinpointed as legitimate targets by those engaging in such criminality.

As well as arson and attempted arson, other incidents have included paint bombing and graffiti, flag thefts, and even a hoax bomb alert.

The regularity of such occurrences over the years is alarming – including the destruction of over 60 Orange properties since the Troubles began.

These are truly shocking statistics and a plan of action must now be put in place forthwith to curb such deliberate and contrived illegality once and for all.

With this in mind, myself, along with senior Grand Lodge officers, will be meeting with the PSNI leadership at the earliest opportunity to register our deep concern at recent developments.

I have previously called for a more robust response, and while the Institution appreciates there can never be 24-hour police protection on every hall, there is an urgent requirement for a concerted and co-ordinated policing strategy which will see individuals made amenable for such hate crimes.

We must always remember such attacks are not just on property but also people.

Members of Salterstown lodge have now lost use of their hall, to which they have a natural and long-standing affection, for an extended period. They will undoubtedly see what happened this week as an attack on them and their families, and will be hurt and perhaps fearful by the unfolding events.

Orange halls are a vital component of community life here, providing a social lifeline and meeting place for numerous groups.

The provision of such amenities is also of significant financial benefit to local councils, users and other providers.

It is therefore of utmost importance that Salterstown hall is restored to its former glory, and the Orange fraternity will no doubt once again rally behind lodge members in their hour of need.

The Orange Institution does not want to see its halls burnt or vandalised. However, republican opposition to our cultural heritage and traditions helps to create the conditions where the Order is continually demonised. This in turn, in the warped minds of those responsible, legitimises such criminality.

Pouring petrol into an Orange hall and lighting a match takes us back to a past we must leave behind.

As a major stakeholder in this society, we want to share the future. The question remains – are others willing to do the same?