Martin McGuinness 'horrified' by attack on Orange hall in Co Donegal

Investigators survey the damage at Convoy Orange Hall, Co Donegal. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Investigators survey the damage at Convoy Orange Hall, Co Donegal. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

SINN Féin's Martin McGuinness said he was "horrified and disgusted" over the torching of an Orange hall yesterday in Co Donegal - the second such attack within weeks.

The deputy first minister said there was nothing political or republican about the apparent arson attack in Convoy, which he described as "criminal".

The hall was destroyed by the fire, started at about 4am. Attempts were also made to set alight the pulpit and a room in Convoy Presbyterian Church.

Just three weeks ago, an Orange hall was deliberately burnt down in nearby Newtowncunningham.

Investigators are trying to establish the cause of the latest blaze.

Mr McGuinness said he was "absolutely infuriated" by the destruction.

"I want to make it absolutely clear that, in my opinion, whatever was behind the motivation of those who were responsible for these deeds, there wasn't anything republican about it, there wasn't anything political about it, but there was everything criminal about it," he said.

Mr McGuinness, who lives nearby in Derry, said people in the wider area took great pride in the building of cross-community relations in recent years.

Appealing for local people to ensure the halls are restored to their "former glory", he described attacks on the Orange Order as totally unjustified.

"They do make an important contribution, culturally, religiously and socially to the life of people in that area, and not just from the Protestant community," he said.

Also speaking at the latest North South Ministerial Council meeting, First Minister Peter Robinson said he was pleased both Mr McGuinness and Taoiseach Enda Kenny had joined in the condemnation.

"We stand with the minority Protestant community in Donegal who will be uneasy at this present time," the DUP leader said.

Mr Kenny said the attacks were "acts of criminality" and assistance would be offered through reconciliation funding to help the Protestant community affected.

Close to the Donegal border with Derry and Tyrone, Convoy has a mixed population and is home to one of just two Free Presbyterian churches in the Republic.

The village is also home to Co Donegal's GAA centre of excellence, a key training facility for the county team.

Letterkenny Garda superintendent Michael Finan said an accelerant was used to set fire to Convoy Orange hall.

"The caretaker discovered that an attempt had been made to set the church itself on fire. Fortunately the fire didn't catch but we do believe that both incidents in Convoy are connected," he said.

The attacks have been condemned by both Catholic and Protestant clergy in Convoy. Presbyterian minister Colin McKibbin said damage at the church was minor.

"A Bible had been burnt in the back room and then as we opened the door to go into the main church somebody had tried to set fire to the pulpit and had broken a couple of the pulpit light stands," he said.

Convoy Orange hall was built in the 1930s and was used by members of Thiepval Memorial Orange lodge, a local Apprentice Boys Club and for other community activities.

Orange Order grand secretary Drew Nelson said there had been a total of 16 attacks on the organisation's property in Ireland since the start of the year.

"Attacks on Orange halls are an insidious form of sectarianism," he said.

A joint statement from senior Catholic and Protestant clergy condemned the attack.

"The people of Convoy and Newtowncunningham most affected by the willful damage to these buildings have been assured that these incidents are deplored by the whole community."