Police are appealing for witnesses following the fire at Altnaveigh Orange Hall in Newry last night, Saturday 25 February.
Shortly after 7.15pm police received a report that a number of tyres had been placed against the rear of the building and set on fire.
A passer-by noticed the fire at the Martins Lane hall, and alerted the emergency services who quickly dealt with the blaze.
Damage was caused to the eves of the property as a result of the incident.
Smoke damage was also caused to the interior of the building.
Police are working to establish a motive for the incident and are appealing to anyone who may have noticed any suspicious activity in the area or anyone who has any information about this incident to contact officers in Newry on 101, quoting reference number 1126 25/02/17. Alternatively, if someone would prefer to provide information without giving their details they can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers and speak to them anonymously on 0800 555 111.
The DUP’s William Irwin said: “Disgusted to learn of an arson attack at Altnaveigh Orange Hall on the outskirts of Newry. As some shout about equality it appears it doesn’t apply to those of us who cherish our Orange culture.
“Altnaveigh Hall is a significant symbol for Orangeism in the area and will no doubt come back bigger and better. Please remember our Brethren at Altnaveigh.”
An Orange Order spokesman said members of the local lodge were “disgusted” by the nature of the latest attack on their property.
He said: “This is a truly sickening incident and one which clearly had a clear sectarian motive. The moronic hate-filled individuals responsible are a blight on the local community and ought to be ashamed of their actions.
“Such naked bigotry should not be acceptable – yet, the continuous cycle of attacks on Orange property is reflective of the unending demonisation of the Institution, still very much prevalent in today’s society. This is intolerable and must not be allowed to continue.”
Altnaveigh hall was the target of previous major arson attacks in 1996 and 2005, and has been subjected to numerous acts of vandalism throughout the years.
The building contains a memorial plaque to prominent members of the lodge who were murdered during the Troubles, and an Orange parade is held every year to commemorate the massacre of Protestants in the area in 1922.
The Order’s spokesman praised the actions of the fire service personnel, and also appealed for witnesses to contact police as a matter of urgency.
He confirmed Grand Lodge would be raising the matter of the hall’s security with the PSNI at the earliest opportunity.
He added: “This really is a despicable action and we would call on all to condemn the attack and provide the PSNI with any information that may assist their investigation.”
Sinn Féin Newry & Armagh Assembly election candidate Conor Murphy has also condemned those responsible.
He said: “This attack on Altnaveigh Orange hall was wrong and I condemn it.
“If the objective was to cause community division I am confident that this will not happen.
“These attacks are no different than attacks on GAA halls, churches and other cultural and community facilities and must be rejected by everyone. I would encourage anyone with any information on this attack to bring it forward to the PSNI.”
Ulster Unionist Assembly candidate for Newry & Armagh, Danny Kennedy, and Councillor David Taylor have expressed their disgust.
Mr Kennedy said: “I condemn this hate crime which is deliberately timed by some republicans to raise tensions in the area in the run up to the election. The strategic position of Altnaveigh and its history clearly continues to play on the twisted and bigoted minds of those responsible for this attack.”
Councillor David Taylor said: “The attack on the Orange Hall is a very sinister attempt to intimidate members of the local Orange Lodge. Altnaveigh Orange Lodge is very well renowned and widely respected within the Newry area and all right thinking people will offer strong condemnation of the attack.
“I am very confident that the members of Altnaveigh Orange Lodge will stand firm against this intimidation and appeal for anyone with information on the attack to report it to the police as soon as possible.”