Page last updated at 18:06 GMT, Thursday, 9 July 2009 19:06 UK

Church paint attacks 'sectarian'

Harryville Church

A church in Harryville was one of five which were targeted

Police are examining CCTV footage and a burned out car after attacks at five Catholic churches and a GAA club in the Ballymena area.

Paint was thrown at churches on Crebilly Road, Larne Road, Cullybackey and Portglenone.

A church and headstones on the Portglenone Road in Ahoghill were also targeted. The attacks took place early on Thursday morning.

The car was driven into the grounds of a GAA club in Ahoghill and set on fire.

Police said the gates to the premises on the Crosskeys Road were forced open during the incident, but no damage was caused to the building or pitch.

They are investigating the possibility that this attack may be linked to the other incidents in the Ballymena and Ahoghill areas.

The Mayor of Ballymena, James Currie, said the attacks were not a "true reflection" of life in the area.

"It does nothing to attract business, to attract tourists and I condemn it on all sides," the Ulster Unionist councillor said.

"I condemn the people who damage Orange halls, I condemn the people who damage Roman Catholic churches.

"They are not helping this country or any citizen of it one iota."

SDLP MLA for North Antrim, Declan O'Loan, said the attack was a "disgraceful episode for the Ballymena area".

"Generally, Ballymena has been much more settled recently but there has been a state of nervousness and tension in the area, particularly about the flags disputes that has now manifested into these attacks," he said.

"It's reminiscent of the type of thing that happened not too many years ago when we used to hear of attacks happening through the night all too often, but we've had nothing like that for a good period of time so it's certainly very worrying and very distressing."

Reverend John Finlay
Reverend Finlay said he condemned the attacks

Presbyterians in Ballymena have condemned the overnight attacks on Catholic churches in the area.

Reverend John Finlay, minister of Harryville Presbyterian church in Ballymena, said he completely condemned the attacks.

"I am so sorry that it has happened, we have very good relationships with our Roman Catholic neighbours and we would express our solidarity with them," the former Presbyterian Moderator said.

"We thought these sort of things things were consigned to the past."

A bin was set alight against the wall of an Orange hall on the Whitewell Road in Newtownabbey on Wednesday night.

The blaze was extinguished by the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service. It is not known how much damage was caused.

DUP culture minister and North Belfast MLA Nelson McCausland described the incident as a "despicable act of intolerant bigotry".

Meanwhile, two cars were destroyed in a suspicious fire in Rathfriland, County Down, on Thursday morning.

Police are investigating the circumstances surrounding the incident which happened in the Cross Heights area.



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