A new British government scheme offering financial compensation for attacks on Orange Halls has been described as sectarian.
Sinn Féin criticised the proposal to offer compensation to the strictly Protestant Orange Order for those halls targeted in arson attacks, pointing out that it excluded Gaelic sports clubs from the scheme.
A British official said the legislation would cover community halls but not sporting facilities and establishments that have a commercial element.
Despite some suggestions to the contrary, it remains unclear to what extent, if at all, attacked GAA premises would receive compensation.
The move follows years of lobbying by the Orange Order and unionist parties who have called for the compensation process to be changed.
“It is very important that the insurance industry continue to do everything possible to help but it now seems appropriate for the government to step in and help those organisations which are being victimised,” said British Secretary Shaun Woodward this week.
“This consultation paper will propose a new criterion in the Criminal Damage Order specific to community halls that are eligible for rates relief - including Orange Halls - which would ensure that attacks would generate an entitlement for statutory compensation.”
Earlier this month, it was revealed that only half of the claimed attacks on Orange halls last year were in fact sectarian.
At the height of the attacks, Orange Order Grand Master Robert Saulters insisted there was a “well organised and orchestrated campaign” against its premises, but that has now been denied by the PSNI police.
Sinn Féin’s Francie Brolly said the announcement must now also benefit Gaelic sports clubs.
“Community halls such as those provided by the GAA and Orange Order are very much a part of the local community, particularly in rural areas,” he said.
“Many have been attacked time and time again. This new legislation can ensure that local communities can rebuild their community halls.”
MEMORIALS AND FLAGS
Meanwhile, a row has erupted in Down District Council over IRA memorials.
It followed a motion by the DUP party demanding the removal of “monuments dedicated to republican terrorists” from council-owned land.
They include a memorial in Downpatrick to IRA leader Colum Marks and a monument in Castlewellan which lists the names of IRA Volunteers killed in the conflict.
Sinn Féin councillor Willie Clarke said the sensible way forward would be to discuss such divisive issue, including the use of the Union Jack flag, “behind closed doors”.
The council agreed to allow a subcommittee to consider the issue.