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Last Updated: Monday, 16 January 2006, 07:28 GMT
Nuns' distress at convent blaze
The fire-damaged roof of the covent in west Belfast
Security is to be stepped up at a convent in west Belfast following a suspected arson attack.

Clearing-up is continuing at the Convent of Mercy in the Beechmount area of Belfast after a fire on Friday night damaged the kitchen and roof.

Nine elderly nuns, one of whom is 98 years old, were said to be very distressed by what happened.

Community leader Sr Teresa O'Neill said security at the convent was under review following the fire.

"We will have to have security to man the grounds, especially during the night, because we are very vulnerable," she said.

Police believe the fire was started deliberately in a storage shed next to the convent at Ardnavagh Road at 2150 GMT on Friday.

It then spread to the convent. No-one was injured and no-one needed to be moved from the building.

Sr Teresa said the nuns' relationship with the community had always been very good.


She did not believe those responsible were aware of the devastation they had caused.

"It would appear that it was an arson attack of some kind. I am sure that the people who did this were not aware of what the implications were," she said.

"They probably didn't realise that they were causing such inconvenience to sisters in their 90s.

Sr Veronica O'Brien, who visited the elderly nuns at the weekend, said they were very shocked.

"They are quite devastated. This is their home, their retirement refuge, their place of peace. It has been violated," she said.

"They are quite distressed. It will take some time before they get over this event."

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