Northern Ireland news

Arson attack on Casement Social Club 'an attack on the community'

Bob Murray, chairman of Casement Social Club in west Belfast, looks at the damage caused by the fire. Picture by Mal McCann

A west Belfast social club, shut for more than five months due to the Covid crisis, has said an arson attack on its newly-renovated premises was "an attack on the community".

Casement Park Social Club is due to open its doors to members today for the first time since March 14.

Prior to reopening, the club - situated next to the empty Casement Park GAA ground on the Andersonstown Road - had been building a beer garden to allow more vulnerable members to socialise in an outdoor space.

However, over the weekend the garden was set on fire by young people, causing thousands of pounds worth of damage.

Club chairman Bob Murray said the derelict stadium is not properly protected and has been vandalised on numerous occasions.

"The park is not secured, everything that can be wrecked has been and now that there's nothing left to destroy they've climbed over the fence and targeted the club," he said.

"There were four of them came over the fence, you can see them clearly on the CCTV.

"They're only around 13 years old, kids who should be out hurling or playing football, not setting fires.

"I'd say there's about £4,000/£5,000 worth of damage. We'd just laid new artificial grass and it was looking great - they set that on fire and it spread to the nearby fence.

"It's a bit of a sickener really, we are a community bar and this is an attack on the community."

Mr Murray said that after such a long closure, today remains a big day for the club and its regulars.

"We will still be opening at 7pm, we've the place looking great inside, all laid out with social distancing.

"The thing is about 80 per cent of our members would fall into the vulnerable category, they'd be all over 65 and so we want them to feel safe and well looked after.

"There's some of our people haven't had a drink since March 14. They wouldn't be the type to drink at home - they come here for the comradery, they come for the craic and they know they'll be taken care of.

"Some would have been isolated or shielding. This is such a big part of their socialising with friends who they might not have seen for months, it's been a big loss for them not having that.

"So when I say this is a community club that's what I mean.

"The fire has been reported to police who have looked at the CCTV. It's sad it happened and it's a set back, but that won't stop us getting the doors open and welcoming in our members."

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