Northern Ireland news

Man arrested after East Belfast GAA security alerts

Police at Henry Jones' playing fields in Castlereagh, which is used by East Belfast GAA. Picture by Hugh Russell
Marie Louise McConville

A man has been arrested on suspicion of possessing and making explosives after a series of security alerts linked to the new Belfast GAA club.

Members were last night being urged to check their vehicles amid two fresh security alerts hours after an initial warning being treated by police as "a sectarian hate crime".

A 54-year-old man was arrested last night on suspicion of a number of offences, including possessing and making explosives in suspicious circumstances and intimidation, following a search of a residential property in the Braniel area of east Belfast

Police were first called to Henry Jones playing fields on Church Road in Castlereagh on Wednesday evening while players trained, after receiving an anonymous phone call at around 8pm.

The caller claimed a number of explosives had been left at the Belfast City Council site and the area was cleared, with a safety cordon erected overnight.

East Belfast GAA said "once a live situation was identified, the police and the club worked quickly to make people safe and help them disperse from the area calmly and efficiently".

Yesterday morning a search was carried out, but police reported that "nothing untoward" had been found and officers left the scene and the facility, which is used by a wide range of groups, reopened.

The investigation was treated "as a sectarian hate crime" and a forensic examination was carried out on a nearby public telephone box.

However, Chief Superintendent Jonathan Roberts later said it was believed two further security alerts - at Mayfield Square in the Blacks Road area of west Belfast and at Strandtown in east Belfast - were connected.

Three cars, two in east Belfast and one in west Belfast, together with three items that had been placed on them, have been recovered for further forensic analysis.

"We are urging anyone who was training with East Belfast GAA club or anyone else who had a parked vehicle at the playing fields or surrounding area to check on and around their vehicle and report anything suspicious immediately to police," Mr Roberts said.

Posting on social media before the second alerts, East Belfast GAA had vowed to continue to operate, thanking "both the PSNI and to our playing members, who behaved impeccably during the situation".

"The creation and maintenance of a safe environment for sport to be played by all and the safety of our members whilst playing remains a priority for us all," it said.

"The club intends to continue to work with the police, the community in east Belfast, and the public at large, whose support we have enjoyed on a daily basis, to ensure the continued safety and enjoyment of our members and patrons. Our door remains open, to all."

It also went ahead with a game which saw its new hurling team in competitive action for the first time in the Betsy Grey Shield against Warrenpoint GAA.

Responding to the initial alert, SDLP councillor Séamas de Faoite said it was an "appalling attempt to intimidate East Belfast GAA".

"No team should feel threatened by those who seek to deny that the GAA can be just as much a part of the character and spirit of east Belfast as any other sport," he said.

Alliance councillor Eric Hanvey also said those behind the alert were "an absolute disgrace and do not represent east Belfast".

"East Belfast GAA has received plaudits from right across the community, and rightly so, in their attempt to help build a better future in east Belfast by bringing people together via sport, so they can live, work and play together in peace."

DUP East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson said the attempt to intimidate the GAA club "must be condemned by everyone and without reservation".

"Those behind this alert are in no way representative of the people of East Belfast or wider Northern Ireland," he added.

Ulster Unionist assembly member Andy Allen also said it was "totally abhorrent behaviour"

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