600 attacks on places of worship in Northern Ireland in five years

Concern has been expressed after figures showed there have been more than 600 attacks on places of worship in Northern Ireland in the last five years.

According to police statistics, there have been 601 incidents of criminal damage to religious buildings, churchyards or cemeteries since 2014/15.

The number of attacks has remained relatively consistent each year, with 136 in 2014/15, 128 in 2015/16, 118 in 2016/17, 115 in 2017/18 and 104 in 2018/19.

Most of the incidents took place in Belfast (173), followed by Lisburn and Castlereagh (60), Newry, Mourne and Down (58) and Ards and North Down (57).

Most recently, St Saviour’s Church in Craigavon suffered an arson attack in July, while Brantry Parish Church in Co Tyrone was attacked, with a window smashed and damage caused to the interior, in April.

Both the Belfast Synagogue and Belfast Islamic Centre have suffered property damage in the last 10 years.

The figures were uncovered by Christian Action Research & Education (Care NI) following a Freedom of Information request.

The Christian charity has called on the Stormont Executive to consider policies to ensure that places of worship are properly protected.

It has previously called for a Places of Worship: Protective Security Funding Scheme to be set up, mirroring a similar scheme available in England and Wales.

The Scottish Government has announced it is introducing a similar scheme there, leaving Northern Ireland as the only part of the United Kingdom without such a scheme.

Rev Aaron McAlister, rector of Derriaghy Parish Church, saw his church broken into and vandalised in 2019.

He said significant damage was caused to the vestry and sanctuary.

“The individuals concerned managed to get in behind our organ while searching for valuables, but fortunately there was nothing to take,” he said.

“It left many of my parishioners deeply upset. An attack on a place of worship is an attack on the community that worships there.

“Rather than getting on with serving our community, we have had to spend valuable hours repairing the damage caused.

“I would support additional government measures to protect places of worship. Action to prevent attacks happening to other faith communities would be hugely welcome.”

Care NI policy officer Mark Baillie said churches are being attacked with “alarming regularity”, adding that it makes sense to consider introducing a security fund.

“More than 600 attacks in the last five years is a reminder that places of worship, which should be safe spaces for worshippers and congregants, are all too often targeted by vandalism and violence,” he said.

“The gradual easing of lockdown will surely only increase the opportunity and risk of further attacks and therefore it’s important MLAs take action.

“Last year, following Care NI’s previous research into this issue, we wrote to the party leaders asking for a manifesto commitment to create a security fund.

“We had positive engagement with a number of political parties and we are today calling on the Northern Ireland Executive to take this up.”

He added: “The scheme in England and Wales is a practical step we could introduce here to equip places of worship to invest in adequate security to prevent criminal damage.

“In a free and democratic society, no-one should be afraid of gathering together with those who share their faith in a place of worship.”

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Categories: 600 attacks, Churches, mosques, News, NI, Northern Ireland, Place of worship, Places of Worship, Synagogues