A sectarian campaign against a Gaelic sports club dating back three years has escalated with successive loyalist attacks at their venue in east Belfast.
The East Belfast Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) is among clubs which use the council-run sports facilities at Henry Jones playing fields.
Recently erected posts and netting were torched by arsonists last week, before a forced evacuation of three nearby schools and nurseries took place on Tuesday when a device was left at the grounds.
Following previous threats in 2020, there was also a bomb alert at the same playing fields in May. One school has also received intimidating messages after it hosted “taster” or trial GAA sessions.
Unionist leaders have been condemned for not speaking out about the attacks.
Sinn Féin Assembly member Deirdre Hargey said there was “a concerted attempt by sinister elements to intimidate both adults and children away from playing sport in a public park.
“Disgraceful incidents like this do not represent the vast majority of people who are focused on moving forward and on the future.”
Amanda Steele was on her way to take her daughter, Iona, to school when she received messages saying the school was closed. She said the playing fields, where the object was discovered, are meant to be used by everyone in the area.
“It’s just awful that people feel like they have the right to deny a club to play in those playing fields, have the right to deny children to go and play in those fields, and are closing a school,” she said.
SDLP councillor Séamas de Faoite called for an end to the “string of incidents targeting the club”.
“These continued attacks on East Belfast GAA by a small band of thugs must cease once and for all. Those behind the targeting of the club do not speak for or represent people in this area, the vast majority of whom have bigger things to be worrying about than what their local sports clubs get up to,” he said.
“In stark contrast to this continued intimidation, East Belfast GAA has been a wonderful addition to life in the area. Like many parts of our city, east Belfast is changing and the club have played a big part in that, being an inclusive, positive and proactive addition to the community.
“The people responsible for this alert are only harming their own community.”