Arson attack outrage

Arson attack outrage

17 February 2021

A PUBLIC meeting is being held tomorrow night to discuss increasing anti-social behaviour in Downpatrick. 

The virtual event takes place just over a week after arsonists targeted the former Downe Hospital building which prompted a major response from the Fire and Rescue Service.

Nine appliances were at the scene of the blaze which started around 8pm last Tuesday night with the malicious fire the second concerning incident at the site where 103 new social homes are being being built.

Clanmill Housing Association, which is developing the site, says it is “extremely disappointed and concerned” at what happened.

Two weeks ago, a security guard was assaulted by a group of youths who wanted to access the site to drink alcohol. A builder’s skip was also set on fire.

Amid calls for increased security at the construction site, local police were due to meet with the developer on Monday, while the arson attack has been raised with Stormont justice minister Naomi Long at the Assembly.

Ahead of tomorrow night’s virtual public meeting, it has been confirmed that the district’s Policing and Community Safety Partnership (PCSP) is compiling an anti-social behaviour action plan and examining possible solutions to deal with the issue in Downpatrick and is working in tandem with a number of statutory agencies.

Politicians say the community has had enough of the attacks at the hospital site and other anti-social behaviour incidents across the town and that the seriousness of what is happening cannot be underestimated, urging police to do all they can to tackle the problem.

The meeting — which starts at 7pm —  is being organised by councillors Patrick Brown and Cadogan Enright and will focus on what action can be taken to address the anti-social behaviour issue.

They say the meeting provides an opportunity for businesses and community groups affected by the anti-social behaviour to voice their concerns and to contribute to finding a solution alongside representatives from the PSNI, Translink, Housing Executive and residents.

Cllr Brown said there has been a huge increase in anti-social behaviour in Downpatrick over recent months, suggesting that the behaviour of those involved is getting worse.

“We cannot let this continue and must come together as a community, united in our efforts to bringing a stop to this,” he added.

Cllr Enright says the meeting provides a platform to highlight the specific problems being faced by the community and how to move forward.

South Down MLA Colin McGrath, who raised the arson attack with the justice minister, described the antics of troublemakers in the town centre as a “disgrace” and revealed that last weekend a number of litter bins were set on fire.

“Someone knows who is doing this and the tragic reality of this situation is that those engaging in this behaviour are committing multiple crimes. I know and have worked with young people in the town for years and know there must be a reason why they are turning to this sort of activity,” he said.

“Given the severity of this situation I raised this on the floor of the Assembly with the justice minister requesting that funds be made available to the Community Safety Partnership to help get on top of this issue and address it once and for all.”

Cllr Oonagh Hanlon, who has met with representatives from the PSNI, Clanmill, the contractor and security firm in charge of the hospital site, said the seriousness of the incidents cannot be underestimated.

“We need to see visible and tangible action from PSNI in tackling this problem. As the chairperson of the PCSP’s anti-social behaviour group I have been working with officials to consider possible solutions and it was agreed by all partners to develop an area action plan for Downpatrick to deal with these issues,” she said.

“The community cannot be held back or indeed much-needed new homes jeopardised by the mindless actions of a few.”

Clanmill said it was “extremely disappointed and very concerned” at last week’s arson attack at the former Downe Hospital.

“Bringing the former hospital building back into use for the community as high quality, affordable homes is one of the things that most excites us about this development,” it said.

“The contractor is currently assessing the damage to the building and we will be doing all that we can to minimise the impact of this vandalism on the delivery of homes to people who are waiting for them.”

“We are very concerned by this targeting of the site. Both incidents are being investigated by the PSNI and we would urge anyone with information that could assist officers to contact them.”

* To log on to the public meeting, register at before 5pm tomorrow to receive a Zoom link, while anyone who wants to discuss their concerns privately are asked to contact Cllr Brown at