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Disturbing continuation of sectarian hate crimes

The past week has witnessed an upsurge in both loyalist and republican paramilitary violence which is profoundly disturbing twenty years on from the Good Friday Agreement.

These attacks have involved both guns and bombs of different types as well as hijackings, intimidation and street disorder.

What we have witnessed in Derry, north Down and east Belfast has been serious and alarming but there have been other incidents at a lower level which nevertheless point to a deep-seated sectarianism which presents itself on both sides of our divided community.

This was all too apparent at the weekend with separate hate crimes taking place in east Belfast and Newry.

St Vincent's Centre in Willowfield Drive, Belfast, which is attended by primary age children with special educational needs due to social, emotional and behavioural difficulties, was the target of an arson attack on Friday night.

While thankfully no one was injured, there was extensive smoke and scorch damage to a classroom and pupils' coursework was destroyed.

Police, who are treating the arson as a sectarian hate crime, are seeking around 15 masked youths they say had been involved in anti-social behaviour on Friday night.

Attacking a special needs school is absolutely despicable and we must hope that anyone with information about the perpetrators will come forward.

Meanwhile, an appalling act of vandalism in Newry saw poppy wreaths taken from the cenotaph at Bank Place and thrown into Clanrye River.

Local people who formed a human chain to retrieve the wreaths and return them to their rightful place showed a true sense of community spirit.

Their actions were in sharp contrast to the contemptible individuals who carried out this disgraceful act.

It is a fundamental principle in society that monuments commemorating the dead are treated with respect and attacks on poppy wreaths must be regarded as completely unacceptable.

The fact that hate crimes in different forms continue in Northern Ireland shows that more work is needed to tackle the intolerant attitudes that perpetuate sectarianism.

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