Multi-cultural centre in Belfast used as a food bank damaged in second arson attack

Police are treating the blaze as a hate crime

A multi-cultural centre in Belfast which was being used as a food bank has been damaged in a suspected arson attack for the second time in a year.

Police said they were treating the blaze at the Belfast Multi-Cultural Association in Donegall Pass on Friday morning as a hate crime, and had launched a major investigation.

The premises were extensively damaged in a previous arson attack in January 2021, which gutted building and destroyed the roof. A campaign by Amnesty International raised more than £70,000 to pay for extensive repair work.

Muhammad Atif, a trustee of the Belfast Multi-Cultural Association, said the scale of the damage was not yet clear but he believed the Association would need similar help from right across the community.

He also called for people to “stand beside us” in opposition to the attacks and said they felt “badly let down” that nobody had been held accountable for the previous attack. “Now it has happened again. Something must change.

“We do not have the words to describe how we are feeling. We are devastated and heartbroken at another attack on our premises,” Mr Atif said.

“We are still in the process of rebuilding from the arson attack last year. Roof repair work was completed just this week.

“But we give this commitment. Our work goes on and we will come back stronger - because we feel an overwhelming duty to serve the people of Belfast. The flames of hatred will never diminish that.”

Arson attack

Patrick Corrigan, the Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International, said he was "disgusted but sadly unsurprised" that there had been another arson attack on the Association and said those responsible must be held accountable.

“We feared this could happen again given that those responsible for last year’s attack have gone unpunished,” he said.

“Those behind violent race hate attacks in Belfast are emboldened by the near-impunity they appear to enjoy.

“Police figures show that in 90 per cent of cases of racially motivated hate crime in Northern Ireland - mostly attacks on people and property - no-one is held to account.

“This cannot go on. Those responsible for the attack in January last year must be held accountable, as must those for last night’s attack.

“People from ethnic minority backgrounds must be able to live lives free of fear,” he said.

PSNI Superintendent Gerard Pollock said police were "made aware of a fire at the building at around 1.20am this morning.

“Officers attended along with colleagues from Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service, who extinguished the blaze.

“This is the second fire at this location since January 2021 and we have therefore commenced a major investigation led by detectives based at Musgrave police station,” he said. “Police are treating the fire as suspected arson at this time and a hate crime.”

He appealed for anyone with information, or who noticed any suspicious activity in the Donegall Pass area of south Belfast late on Thursday night or early on Friday morning to contact them at Musgrave police station on 101 quoting reference number 70 08/04/22.

Additional reporting - PA.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times