Weekend security alerts - reaction

BALLYMENA business owners have been urged by police to check their properties following a number of security alerts in the borough at the weekend.

Army explosives experts were called in to deal with three local cases of suspicious objects on Sunday which, according to H District Area Commander, Temporary Chief Superintendent Nigel Goddard, were all viable pipe bomb-type devices.

One was found by a child at Casement’s GAA club on the Gortgole Road in Portglenone sparking an alert at around 4pm and a similar suspicious object was also discovered by a member of the public outside St Paul’s Primary School on the Ballynafie Road in Ahoghill at around 2.30pm.

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On Sunday night, the Crosskeys Road between Ballymena and Ahoghill remained closed because of another alert at a community centre.

The alert, which was also raised by a member of the public, ended at around 11pm after two controlled explosions were carried out on a device which was also confirmed by police as ‘viable’.

A call was issued by the PSNI to business owners and residents around Ballymena to check their properties for suspicious objects.

Politicians in North Antrim were quick to condemn those responsible.

The Mayor of Ballymena, Cllr Maurice Mills said: “I unreservedly condemn those who perpetrated the events in the Bannside area on Sunday at Acorn Community Centre, the GAA Club in Portglenone and the Primary School in Ahoghill.

“Such activities do not serve the better interests of the residents of this Borough and can only but damage the good relations that right thinking people strive to establish on a day and daily basis.

“Whoever committed these acts will not profit in the long run.

“If one has a perceived grievance we have long established democratic structures to seek a resolution to whatever grievance arises.

“Any acts of violence committed to advance a political or religious cause reaps no long term benefit, and causes considerable anguish to those caught up in the incidents.

“I reiterate my condemnation of such acts be they from a green or an orange hue and trust the PSNI will be able to bring these destructive, mindless individuals before the courts,” said Cllr Mills.

MP Ian Paisley Jnr said: “Whether it is disrupting schools or attacking private property, these deeds are to be condemned.

“It is impossible to understand why people persist with this behaviour. Violence of any kind is futile and every effort should be made to convict those responsible.

“The community has a key role in helping the police,” he added.

Also condemning the security alert at St Paul’s PS, Mervyn Storey MLA, who is chairman of Stormont’s Education Committee, said: “It is hard to know what is the motive and mentality of those who would see any justification for doing such a reckless act as leaving even a hoax device outside a school.

“There can be nothing but utter revulsion for such an attack. Those responsible for this incident should understand that it serves no cause nor is it supported by any right thinking person”.

Both DUP men appealed for anyone with information about the incidents in Ahoghill and Portglenone to contact the police”.

North Antrim Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay described those responsible as “sick”.

He said: “These attacks are not only sectarian they are an attack on children and those behind this are nothing short of sick individuals.

“This isn’t the first time the GAA club in Portglenone has been targetted and neither is it the first sectarian attack of its type in Ahoghill either.

“It is abhorrent that the Catholic and nationalist communities in these areas continue to be singled out by a minority of sectarian bigots within the wider community.

“I urge anyone with information pertaining to these gross attacks to bring it forward to the authorities. Sectarian attacks of any kind are to be condemned and it is vitally important that all politicians use their influence to bring such acts to an end”.

Speaking after visiting the scene at St Paul’s on Sunday, SDLP MLA Declan O’Loan said he condemned the attacks in both Ahoghill and Portglenone “very strongly”.

He said St Paul’s has pupils from across the community and is also the location for a cross-community playgroup.

“This is an attack on the whole community in Ahoghill. However it is clear that there is a sectarian motive to both incidents”.

Commenting further on Monday morning, SDLP MLA said there was a need for clearer and more immediate police information to the public and elected representatives, and especially DPP members, “about what is going on in North Antrim”.

He said: “It was clear from the strong security response in the Ahoghill-Portglenone area on Sunday, which included the use of a helicopter, that the situation was serious. We have since learned that there were at least two viable devices, at the Acorn Centre and Portglenone GAC, and what seems to have been a sophisticated hoax device at St Paul’s Primary in Ahoghill.

“Now we hear that police are requesting keyholders to check premises in case there are further devices in the area.

“Security threats can run from single hoax phone calls up to organised targeting across a whole area. We rely on the police to make an assessment as quickly as possible and then to let us know in clear terms what is going on.

“People should not have to figure this out for themselves based on the visible level of security response. We need to know the best PSNI assessment of who is responsible and what is the potential for further threats,” he said.