Tyrone clubs on alert after attacks

GAA clubs across East Tyrone were on alert last night after two fires at premises.

The latest incident occurred during the early hours of yesterday morning when premises belonging to Cookstown Fr Rocks club was extensively damaged.

On Saturday morning the clubhouse of Edendork St Malachy's GAC was completely destroyed by fire.

Police have said they are treating both blazes as "suspicious" and have appealed for anyone with information to come forward.

Six fire crews spent up to four hours tackling the blaze at Edendork with one senior fire officer claiming the building had been left "like a shell".

Club chairman, Peter O'Connor, said the building was an important community resource which was used by other groups.

"It is very upsetting and everyone has been left in shock," he said. "This clubhouse was the focal point of the local community and a lot of people are going to suffer because it will be out of action for some time."

On Saturday a breakaway loyalist group, the Orange Volunteers, said it had started the fire in retaliation for two attacks on Orange Halls.

But police said yesterday that, while they were treating the blaze as suspicious, there was no firm evidence yet to suggest that it was malicious.

Meanwhile premises belonging to the county's oldest club, Fr Rocks, at Convent Road in Cookstown were badly damaged during a second fire early on Monday morning.

The building, which had been renovated earlier this summer, sustained serious scorch damage and a store-room was gutted. The repair bill could top 12,000 according to members.

Tyrone star Owen Mulligan, who plays for the club, was among those who visited the scene of the blaze yesterday morning.

The club's chairman, Damian Harvey, vowed that those responsible would not wreck its spirit.

"This will only galvanise our members and hopefully we can get things up and running soon," he said.

"We spent 100,000 on the club this year and when you go up there and see those efforts destroyed then it's certainly gutting."

Although one room of the building had been seriously damaged, Mr Harvey is hoping the building can be used in the near future.

There has been condemnation from across the political divide. Mid-Ulster SDLP Assembly member Patsy McGlone said he was disgusted by the attack.

"It's an arson attack clearly, there is no doubt about that," he said. "Once again decent, law abiding people have to pick up the pieces from a mindless attack.

"This is a club which has inspired such geniuses as Tyrone star Owen Mulligan and it's heart-wrenching to see that people are intent on tearing the life out of their local community."

Ulster Unionist MLA Billy Armstrong said those responsible needed to realise that the attacks were "completely futile".

"Such attacks are only carried out by those who are insecure within themselves and their own culture, and feel the need to attack the symbols of someone else's culture," he said.

"No-one should be attacking or vandalising GAA halls, Orange halls, Church halls, churches or any type of property whatsoever."

The Orange Order issued a statement in which they condemned all attacks on halls and appealed for no retaliation.

"Retaliation is always a trap and the people who are burning our Orange Halls will be the ones who will be most pleased if misguided people from the Protestant community retaliate," it read.

DUP Sports Minister Gregory Campbell condemned the attacks "unequivocally and without reservation".

"If the morons who seem to have a resentment and bitterness in them against either Orange Halls or GAA halls see the consequence of their attacks - bigger and better premises built instead - maybe that will have an impact," he said.

"There will be a response by the community and those who attack the hall for whatever mischievous reason will see that it has backfired."

"Maybe that will have an impact because there is no point in attacks that rebound on each community as a result of the previous one."