18/12/2007

Protest Highlights Attacks On Orange Halls

The leader of the Orange Order has accused the police and the government of failing in their duty to protect the institution's property from attacks.

Grand Master, Robert Saulters said the high number of attacks on Orange Halls this year are not being taken seriously – there have in fact been more this year than at any time during the three decades of The Troubles.

The Orange Order leader used a protest meeting at Hillsborough to say that good relations with the government were being severely damaged.

More than 200 Orangemen protested outside Hillsborough Castle on Monday evening following a spate of attacks.

But the Northern Ireland Office said it took the matter very seriously and had met the Order to discuss a way forward.

However, the number of successful prosecutions for attacks on halls is just 0.8% - the lowest for any crime in Northern Ireland, the Order has claimed.

The Orange Order said more than 30 of its buildings have been attacked in the past year.

"These ongoing attacks and the absence of an adequate government response to them has led the Institution to doubt what practical benefits the St Andrew's Agreement and the establishment of a devolved Assembly have brought to our community," Mr Salters said.

In a statement, the NIO said a number of meetings had been held with the order.

A spokesman said that Security Minister Paul Goggins visited one of the halls which had been attacked and met police and Orange Order representatives on Monday. Further meetings were planned, he said.

First Minister Ian Paisley said he and Mr Goggins had talked about the need to streamline the compensation process for damaged halls.

The attackers were "intent on stirring up sectarian division" but were "a minority within Northern Ireland who have a deep-seated hatred for all things Protestant", he said.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said: "Such attacks are motivated by sectarianism and have no place in this society."

He was speaking on Monday after a third Orange Hall was attacked over the weekend.

See: Orange Halls Targeted

(BMcC)

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