Attacks on halls condemned
SHOCK has been expressed after damage was caused to an Orange Hall at Ballintoy which is believed to have been the first attack on the building in living memory, according to local people.
And a councillor said it would be hard to believe that the attack would have been motivated by sectarianism.
Instead, Cara McShane - the current Chairperson of Moyle Council - said it was possibly an act of pure vandalism.
She said any attack on any building, whether it be an Orange Hall or a place or worship, is to be condemned regardless of the motive.
Whilst not believing there would be those in the community who would attack the Orange Hall from a sectarian standpoint she accepted the incident was not good for the image of the area which relies heavily on tourism.
Police are appealing for information following an incident of criminal damage at the Orange Hall in the Whitepark Road area of Ballintoy.
Sometime between December 2 and 29, damage was caused to a number of windows and roof slates on the property.
One pensioner, living all his life in the village, said he could never remember the hall being attacked.
"This has come as a bolt from the blue because in all my years the hall has never been touched so it is disappointing and although any sort of vandalism is not nice it would be a shock if it did turn out to be sectarian."
Councillor McShane, meanwhile, told the Times: "I was shocked about this. Ballintoy Orange Hall is about half a mile outside of the village and is an area which is pitch black at night. There are really steep steps up to the hall and it is not easily accessed so whoever did this had to go out of their way to get to the hall.
"But I just don't think this was sectarian and instead it was probably a wanton act of vandalism. But I would want to condemn any attack on the property.
"In Ballintoy we have a rich diverse culture. Ballintoy has a really good mixed community and an incident like this has never taken place here before. I don't think it was sectarian but more wanton destruction of property going by the track record of community relations.
"But this kind of thing does not bode well for attracting visitors to our area," she added.
A member of Ballintoy Orange Lodge 803 has also spoken of his disappointment that their hall has been attacked.
Robert McIlroy, a former County Grand Master, is also a DUP councillor and the Vice-Chairperson of Moyle Council.
He told the Times: "I am very disappointed to hear about this because Ballintoy Lodge has always worked very well in the community and people in there are good cross-community links in the area.
"The Lodge consults with the community and over the long number of years that I have been involved with the Lodge they have always had very good community relations with local people."
Up until recent years the Ballintoy Hall had a caretaker who lived beside the building.
Several Orange Halls and other properties were attacked in other areas of north Antrim in 2009 but Ballintoy has escaped such problems.
One Orange Hall which has come in for sustained attack in recent years is Rasharkin Orange Hall and in recent days there was another grafitti attack which involved sarcastic mocking of the season of goodwill.
It said 'Merry Christmas and Happy New Year'.
Ballymoney DUP councillor John Finlay, who is also a Dunloy Orangeman, condemned the grafitti saying it was not the way we wish to begin 2010.
He said: "There is no Happy New Year in all of this given the events of 2009 where Orange Halls and homes were attacked. He said that Protestants will look upon this as a threat, all be it ironic.
"I condemn this attack on Rasharkin Orange Hall on New Year's Day. It is most certainly not the way we wish to begin a New Year and it demonstrates the sectarian nature of a minority.
"Last year we saw a number of attacks on this hall as well as on the Protestant community. Rasharkin was the scene of sectarian strife and tension.
"I do hope we are entering a better year than 2009 and that 2010 will be free from sectarian abuse and attacks. However I regard the message as ironic and a threat upon the Protestant community in North Antrim.
"As we enter a New Year I appeal to those responsible for such acts to refrain. I also call on Republicans to demonstrate leadership. I appeal to anyone with information to contact the police; if they do not report it these people will continue their campaign of sectarian terror and abuse against the Protestant community. Please think of your neighbours.
"We need these people lifted off the streets. It has to stop now," Mr Finlay said.
Police are appealing for information regarding the attacks and can be contacted on 08456008000 or contact the Crimestoppers on 0800555111.