Page last updated at 17:47 GMT, Friday, 26 September 2008 18:47 UK

Campbell condemns GAA fire attack

The fire broke out early on Friday
The fire broke out early on Friday

Sports Minister Gregory Campbell has condemned an arson attack on a GAA clubhouse in County Down.

Firefighters were called to St John's clubhouse at Drumnaquoile, near Castlewellan, at about 0700 BST, but about 100,000 of damage was caused.

Last week, a nearby Orange hall was daubed with sectarian graffiti, and some believe this was a revenge attack.

Condemning the arson attack, Mr Campbell said sport was for the "direct benefit of all the community".

"It should give young people an alternative to crime and vandalism and any attacks on premises anywhere need to be totally and unreservedly condemned whether they be GAA facilities or Orange halls in the south Down area or any premises in Northern Ireland," he said.

Area Police Commander Chief Inspector Brian Hanna said anyone with information should contact police.

"We know local people have concerns and we take them seriously, but there is no place in a modern society for attacks on of this nature," he said.

The club said the hall was also used as a community centre, and the fire means a programme for people with special needs will be cancelled.

Special needs co-ordinator Seamus Braniff said: "It's just an utter disgrace and they will be absolutely devastated when we tell them."

Jackie McMullan from the club said "hundreds of thousands of pounds worth" of damage had been caused.

She said the fire had also destroyed many items of sentimental value, such as trophies.

"On Sunday we are going to play a junior championship final in Newry so this is a big day coming up. Now we have been set back a bit."

'Appeal for calm'

Sinn Fein assembly member Willie Clarke said: "I would appeal for calm within the nationalist community, particularly among young people who are devastated by this.

He said he would ask them "to think of what happened and not allow it to happen to anyone else".

Condemning the attack, DUP assembly member Jim Wells said he believed it was the latest in a series of similar incidents in the area.

"This gets the community nowhere if we start to get into tit-for-tat vandalism of other people's property," he said.

"If we keep on the way we're going, it will put people's lives in danger and it's got to stop."

The Grand Secretary of the Orange Order, Drew Nelson, said those "behind this attack are only trying to stir up sectarian division in a part of the province where relations between the two communities have been steadily improving over the past number of years".

"An arson attack on any community hall is an attack on the whole community and must be condemned by everyone.

"Anyone with any information about this attack should contact the police immediately."


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