East Belfast GAA was forced to stop training last night after police received an anonymous call claiming explosive devices were left on the playing fields.
Club members were practicing Wednesday night at Henry Jones playgrounds in the Castlereagh Hills when police received a call about devices left at Church Road playgrounds.
A cordon was placed around the site and remains in place today as officers conducted a full search of the site. Shortly after 11 a.m. on Thursday, police confirmed that nothing untoward had been found.
In a statement on Twitter, East Belfast GAA said: “The club wish to inform members of an incident that occurred during training last night. The club understand that during training the police received a call indicating that a package had been left somewhere near the playing fields on which our members were training.
“On the advice of the PSNI, once an actual situation was identified, the police and the club worked quickly to secure people and help them disperse from the area peacefully and efficiently. The club expresses its thanks to both PSNI and to our game members, who behaved impeccably during the situation.
“Creating and maintaining a safe environment for the sport to be played by all and the safety of our members while playing remains a priority for all of us. The club intends to continue working with the police, the East Belfast community and the general public, whom we support on a daily basis, to ensure the continued safety and enjoyment of our members and patrons.
“Our door remains open, everyone. The matter has now been referred to PSNI. The club have no plans to comment further at this time.”
The club, one of the newest GAA clubs in the world, formed earlier this year. The playing fields are owned by Belfast City Council and are used by a number of different organizations.
Alliance adviser Eric Hanvey said: “The people behind this alert are an absolute disgrace and do not represent East Belfast.
“East Belfast GAA received applause from across the community, and rightly so, in its attempt to help build a better future in East Belfast by bringing people together through sport, so they can live, work and play together in peace.
“Those who instigate security alerts like these are clearly not interested in something so positive, but rather only in division and destruction. They are unwanted in East Belfast or elsewhere, and I urge anyone with any information about them to contact the police immediately. “
SDLP Lisnasharragh adviser Séamas de Faoite added: “This threat is a horrific attempt to intimidate East Belfast GAA, which has brought people from across our community together in an appreciation of their sporting code.
“No team should feel threatened by those who seek to deny that GAA can be as much a part of the character and spirit of East Belfast as any other sport.
“I will continue to work with the club and PSNI to do everything possible to ensure the safety of players and supporters.”
East Belfast Ulster trade union MP Andy Allen said it was “totally heinous behavior” and was not representative of the wider East Belfast community.
“Although this is a hoax, the fear this behavior creates will be present among those who trained on the pitches last night,” he said.
“These grounds are widely used by all members of the community and those looking to intimidate anyone playing sports there should be educated.”
A PSNI spokesperson said: “Police received an anonymous call on the evening of Wednesday, August 5, stating that a number of explosive devices had been left at the Church Road playgrounds in Castlereagh.”
He later added: “Officers searched the Church Road playgrounds in Castlereagh and nothing untoward was found. Police have now left the scene and the facility has reopened.
“Investigations into the incident are ongoing and anyone with information who can assist with the investigation is urged to contact Strandtown Police at 101 citing reference number 1693 08/05/20.
“A report can also be submitted online using the non-urgent report form via http://www.psni.police.uk/makeareport/. You can also contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or online at http://crimestoppers-uk.org/. “