Northern Ireland

Police investigate arson attack on Aontu member’s car as ‘sectarian hate crime’

The scene in Newry after a car was set alight outside a house (Aontu/PA)
The scene in Newry after a car was set alight outside a house (Aontu/PA) The scene in Newry after a car was set alight outside a house (Aontu/PA)

Police are investigating the burning of a car at the home of an Aontu representative in Newry as a sectarian hate crime.

The incident happened in the early hours of Wednesday following July 11 loyalist bonfires across Northern Ireland on the eve of Orange Order marches.

Sharon Loughran said she awoke at 3am to find her car was on fire, describing a “terrifying situation”.

She said the blaze also caused significant damage to her home, and she has been left without electricity and water.

The paediatric nurse also said her house had been daubed with graffiti last year.

“Just after 3am I awoke to the smell and sound of an inferno beside my house. I looked out the window to see my car parked in my driveway consumed by flames,” she said.

“The heat was so much that the fascia, pipes, electrics, and windows to my house have all been damaged by melting. My house is significantly damaged. I don’t have electricity and can’t use the water.”

Ms Loughran said it was a “horrendous action that very easily could have set my house on fire also”.

“The arsonist that set this fire could have killed me. That this would happen to anyone in 2023 is incredible,” she said.

“I cannot for the life of me understand why they are targeting me. I had no involvement in politics before joining Aontu.”

“I am paediatric nurse in Daisy Hill Hospital. I love my job and I am delighted to work for both communities.

Northern Ireland council elections
Northern Ireland council elections Aontu leader Peadar Toibin (Liam McBurney/PA)

“The only reason I got involved in politics was to stop the closure of key services in Daisy Hill Hospital and Aontu are very active on hospital campaigns around the country.”

She said Aontu, as a four-year-old party, has no history or baggage from the past, and she cannot understand why she was targeted.

The party was set up in 2019 on an all-island basis by former Sinn Fein TD Peadar Toibin.

“Indeed we have many Catholic and Protestant members. My house was also daubed with sectarian UDA graffiti during the local elections. But this is a radical escalation of that intimidation,” she added.

Ms Loughran has urged community leaders in Newry to “bring about what influence to stop this shocking violence on the twelfth of July”.

“I want to continue to work for my community. I have a human right to do so in peace,” she added.

Police have issued an appeal for information and witnesses following the incident in the Damolly Village area.

“We received a report that a car had been set alight at the victim’s property in the early hours of this morning,” a spokesperson said.

“The suspect is described as approximately 5ft 10in, of slim build, was wearing a light coloured top and light coloured bottoms.

“The exterior of the house also sustained extensive smoke damage. We are treating this as a sectarian hate crime.

“This has obviously been very distressing for the victim and our investigation is under way and we are appealing to anyone who may have been in the area or who may have captured CCTV footage to contact us on 101 quoting reference number 305 12/07/23.”