13 January 2005 Edition
Orange halls to be exempt from rates
Nationalist politicians have hit out after it was revealed at the weekend that the Orange Order is to be exempt from paying rates on Orange halls.
In a controversial move, British Prime Minister Tony Blair has written to the Grand Orange Lodge and the Independent Imperial Grand Orange Lodge confirming that the exemption, finalised during talks between the DUP and the British Government in the run up to the Leeds Castle negotiations last September, is to go ahead.
It is understood the British Government move is aimed at increasing unionist confidence in the political process.
Reacting, Sinn Féin MLA Francie Molloy recalled that in the 1960s, under Terence O'Neill, Orange halls were derated, a practice that stopped when the Six-County parliament was prorogued in 1972 by the British Government.
"It is a backward step to see the promotion of Orange halls in this way," he said. "The Orange Order is seen as sectarian by many, yet cross-community centres and GAA clubs don't get a rates rebate. What is applied to one should apply to all."
Meanwhile, says attacks on four Orange Halls in the Strabane area are a deliberate attempt to stir up sectarian tensions.
In the latest attack, the front of the Orange hall on the Tullymoan Road in Strabane was damaged after a tyre was placed against a door and set alight. West Tyrone Sinn Féin MP Pat Doherty said that regardless of who is behind the spate of arson attacks, their intent is to stir up sectarian tension and strife within the local community.
"Anger at these attacks is not solely confined to the unionist/loyalist community but is shared in equal measure by the nationalist/republican community. Sectarianism runs contrary to all tenets of republicanism and Sinn Féin abhors such actions, regardless of where they come from."