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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 December 2007, 13:56 GMT
Hall arsons 'aim to breed strife'
Grand Master Robert Saulters and Grand Secretary Drew Nelson
Robert Saulters and Drew Nelson at the protest
Attacks on Orange halls are intended to "breed strife and division", a senior clergyman has said.

Methodist President Rev Roy Cooper said the attackers were "out of step with the vast majority of the community".

More than 200 Orangemen protested outside Hillsborough Castle on Monday evening following a spate of attacks.

The number of successful prosecutions for attacks on halls is just 0.8% - the lowest for any crime in Northern Ireland, the Orange Order has claimed.

But the Northern Ireland Office said it took the matter very seriously and had met the Order to discuss a way forward.

An Orange hall was attacked in Crumlin
An Orange hall was attacked in Crumlin
Grand Master Robert Saulters told the crowd at Monday's protest that good relations with the government were being severely damaged.

The Orange Order said more than 30 of its buildings have been attacked in the past year.

"These ongoing attacks and the absence of an adequate government response to them has led the institution to doubt what practical benefits the St Andrew's Agreement and the establishment of a devolved Assembly have brought to our community," Mr Saulters said.

'Stirring division'

In a statement, the NIO said a number of meetings had been held with the order.

A spokesman said that Security Minister Paul Goggins visited one of the halls which had been attacked and met police and Orange Order representatives on Monday. Further meetings were planned, he said.

First Minister Ian Paisley said he and Mr Goggins had talked about the need to streamline the compensation process for damaged halls.

The attackers were "intent on stirring up sectarian division" but were "a minority within Northern Ireland who have a deep-seated hatred for all things Protestant", he said.

Condemning the attacks as "unacceptable," Mr Goggins said he was resisting pressure to re-classify the halls to speed up compensation claims.

"We're being pressed to classify the halls as agricultural property in which payouts are made out automatically, irrespective of the evidence available," he said.

"I think that would be a step backwards in the history of Northern Ireland, and that's why I'm seeking a commercial solution - ministers over a long period of time have promised to do our best to make this commercial approach work effectively."

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said: "Such attacks are motivated by sectarianism and have no place in this society."

He was speaking on Monday after a third Orange Hall was attacked over the weekend.

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17 Dec 07 |  Northern Ireland
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16 Dec 07 |  Northern Ireland
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15 Dec 07 |  Northern Ireland
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23 Nov 07 |  Northern Ireland

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