The Deputy Grand Master of the City of Londonderry Grand Orange Lodge, Maurice Devenney, has branded those beind an arson attack on Newtowncunningham Orange Hall at the weekend as “mindless idiots” who need to be brought to justice.
Mr Devenney said grown men were in tears after the village’s recently refurbished Orange Hall was gutted in what’s now been confirmed as an arson attack.
On Monday the Orange Order in Newtowncunningham said Gardaí had confirmed to them that the Hall was destroyed by arsonist not long after a 70th birthday party was celebrated there on Friday night.
Mr Devenney, who as a Manor-native is very familiar with the local community, said: “The people who carried this are mindless idiots. But, having spoken to the people in the local area, of one thing I’m certain, this will not divide the community. They are all devastated.
“I would appeal on anyone with any information or who knows anything to come forward and talk to the Gardaí.”
The local Orangeman visited the Hall on Sunday.
“I went down and I met a number of the guys from the Lodge down there and I have to say it’s a long time since I’ve seen grown men crying,” he said.
“I mean a lot of these guys have put sweat and tears and blood into getting this hall refurbished,” he added.
The blaze follows the refurbishment and reopening of the Hall as a key community hub in 2011.
Mr Devenney pointed out that the Hall was used by all members of the community from across the Laggan area and even as far as Inishowen.
“I have to say to give the Lodge credit over this last number of years since the reopening of the new Hall, it’s become very much a cross-community hall, that cross-community events were held at.
“I know they were looking at crocheting classes. That brought in a wide range of people from around the Letterkenny area, even as far away as Buncrana,” said Mr Devenney.
Mr Devenney believes the close-knit community in Newtowncunningham will rally behind the local True Blues LOL 1063.
“I was talking to some of the people who live in the area, from the Catholic community and they were devastated as well,” he said.
“I know the people and I know their feelings. They wouldn’t want anything to happen like this,” he added.
The hall, located on the village’s main street, was rebuilt three years ago. Previously, the building sustained a minor arson attack in 2010.
Treasurer of Newtowncunningham True Blues LOL 1063, Stewart McClean, said local Orangemen were “absolutely devastated” by the incident.
“Lodge members are in a complete state of shock,” he said.
“Since the hall was reopened in 2011, it has been used not only by the loyal orders, but also the general community of Newtowncunningham and the wider area,” he said.
A spokesman for the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland urged any witnesses to contact Gardaí as a matter of urgency.
Prior to the Newtowncunningham fire, there have been a total of seven reported attacks on Orange property so far this year in Northern Ireland.
The last Orange hall to be destroyed by fire was at Inver, County Fermanagh, in 2011. It was later established to be an arson attack.