There has been condemnation after a commemorative banner was allegedly stolen by republicans from an Orange Hall in Newtownabbey.
The banner which belongs to Young’s Temperance True Blues LOL 957 has been stolen from the McCalmont Memorial Orange Hall in Ballyclare.
It had been erected outside the Rashee Road hall to mark the lodge’s 125th Anniversary this year.
Members of the lodge had appealed on social media for information after the banner had disappeared from the front of the hall.
A spokesperson said: “Has anyone seen our Anniversary banner? It has gone missing from the front of our hall. Any help would be greatly appreciated.”
A post appeared on the Nationalist bonfires Facebook page on Friday, July 21, claiming that the banner is now in the Markets area of Belfast.
The post was captioned ‘Roll on 8th August’- in reference to the day bonfires are lit in nationalist areas to mark Internment- and was accompanied by three Irish Tricolours.
After the post emerged, a spokesperson for Young’s Temperance True Blues LOL 957 said: “I’m afraid our banner has been stolen by republicans from the Markets. This is a disgrace in Ballyclare too. Thanks for everyone’s help.”
Condemning those responsible, South Antrim DUP MP Paul Girvan said: “This is only creating tension in our area. The banner had been on display at the front of the hall for some time and there had not been any issues.
“The people behind the theft are boasting about it on social media. This is an act of provocation and will not alleviate tensions.”
Ulster Unionist representative, Cllr David Arthurs is disgusted following the incident. He said: “I have contacted the police regarding the theft of the banner and it’s emergence in the Markets area of Belfast. I reported it as a hate crime and the police are treating it as such.
“As an Orangeman, I am disgusted at this incident. Republicans’ tolerance of the unionist culture isn’t very good, yet we’re expected to bend over backwards for their culture.
“Both cultures can live side-by-side if allowed to.”
Cllr Arthurs added: “I never thought I would see the day that Ballyclare would be targeted in this way. It just shows that they will go anywhere to attack our culture and it is very disturbing.
“The burning of political and religious emblems on bonfires, whether they are loyalist or republican bonfires, is completely wrong.
“Local Orange Lodges will unite with Young’s Temperance True Blues LOL 957 and hopefully they will be able to enjoy their anniversary year.
“If anyone has any information, I would urge them to contact the PSNI.”
Condemning those behind the theft, Brian Graham said: “This is the third attack on an Orange Hall over the weekend. The other two being in Cloughmills and Kilkeel.
“As an Orangeman, I condemn these sectarian attacks on my fellow Brethren’s property and will follow with interest what actions will be taken against those that carried out these attacks - if any.”
Calling on anyone with information to contact the police, Ballyclare PUP representative, Scott McDowell said: “The theft is a disgrace and again shows the hypocrisy within the republican community when they use words like tolerance and respect, yet here again we have another hate crime against another Orange Hall.
“I would appeal to those with information to come forward and speak to the police.”
Police are investigating the theft of the banner. Superintendent Emma Bond said: “Enquiries into this incident are ongoing and I would ask anyone with information to contact 101, quoting reference 1466 24/07/17.”