A series of attacks on Orange halls in Donegal and Armagh has been widely condemned.
A hall in the County Donegal village of Convoy was destroyed by fire in an apparent arson attack. Most unusually, an attempt was also made to burn down a Protestant church in the village.
Convoy Presbyterian Church’s pulpit and a room at the back of the building were targeted. The attack is thought to be the first sectarian attack on a Protestant church in the 26 Counties for several decades.
The incidents also follow an attempted arson attack on nearby Newtowncunningham Orange Hall last month.
The attacks have bewildered local residents as there are no sectarian tensions in the area.
The anti-Catholic Orange Order has recently been at the forefront of a unionist campaign to hold sectarian marches in the Six Counties. This week it announced plans for a series of 18 rallies to demand the right to march through the republican Ardoyne area of north Belfast. It characterises its campaign to hold sectarian marches as a civil rights issue, and has claimed ‘Protestant culture’ is under threat from nationalists.
Sinn Fein’s McGuinness said he was “absolutely infuriated” by the Convoy attack. “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.
Taoiseach Enda Kenna described the attacks in Donegal as “acts of criminality”.
First Minister Peter Robinson said he raised the issue with Taoiseach Enda Kenny during a meeting of the North South Ministerial Council on Friday, and welcomed the high-profile condemnation at the subsequent press conference.
In Armagh, a little-known group has claimed responsibility for a small device that partially exploded outside one Orange hall in County Armagh last Friday, September 26th. The group, calling itself The Irish Volunteers, said it placed the device at Carnagh Orange hall in Keady.
A saucepan containing combustible material was found at the door of the Orange hall. A roller shutter was damaged when the material ignited.
It was the first attack on the hall, which is located in a staunchy republican border area, since 2007. Cathal Boylan, Sinn Fein assembly member, described the attack as “wrong”.
“I condemn this attack on Carnagh Orange Hall and am relieved that no one has been hurt.
“Those responsible for the attack or indeed on any Orange hall have absolutely nothing to offer society and I am calling on them to halt their actions before someone is seriously injured,” he said.
A PSNI evacuation and road closure continued for more than three days following that incident.
In a claim of responsibility to the Irish News, a caller claiming to represent the ‘Irish Volunteers’ also claimed they left a device at the home of a property linked to a man widely suspected to have worked as an agent of MI5.
A scrapyard in the area is understood to be linked to controversial local figure, Dermot Gregory. Gregory was involved in covert surveillance operations that led to the capture by the PSNI of a local man for his part in a republican armed action two years ago. He had previously been working for the intelligence agencies in the South and made written admissions.
He was said to have confessed to being asked by his ‘handlers’ to gather information on a number of people.
At the time, the Sinn Fein MP for area Conor Murphy said he believed Gregory was an MI5 agent.
“I have to say that there is a widely held belief in South Armagh that Gregory has been controlling, manipulating and directing the activities of the RIRA in this area for many years at the behest of MI5. The recent media reports appear to confirm this,” Mr Murphy said.
“According to reports Mr Gregory, who had no previous association with Irish republicanism, agreed to assume the role of an agent provocateur after he was arrested for a serious sexual assault.
At that time the authorities did not proceed with any charge against him.”
It was reported earlier this year that a group called the Irish Volunteers announced its disbandment after being ordered to stand down by the larger Oglaigh na hEireann group.