Northern Ireland news

Almost 450 attacks on churches and religious buildings in Northern Ireland over past three years

Paint was thrown at Sacred Heart Church on Doagh Road, Ballyclare earlier this year. Picture by Ann McManus

ALMOST 450 churches and religious buildings in Northern Ireland have been attacked over the past three years, new figures reveal.

The charity, Christian Action Research and Education (CARE), is calling for "immediate action" to protect churches from attack after the statistics showed criminal damage had been caused to 445 religious buildings, churchyards or cemeteries since 2016.

Among those damaged has been Saintfield Road Presbyterian Church in Belfast, which suffered two arson attacks in July 2016, while Sacred Heart Church in Ballyclare was attacked with paint on Easter Sunday this year.

CARE NI said it would be writing to political leaders, asking for a specific manifesto commitment to establish a fund in the north to provide financial resources for places of worship to install security measures such as CCTV, fencing and lighting.

Dr Alistair McCracken of Saintfield Road Presbyterian Church said they would support any government measures to protect churches.

"Following two arson attacks on our church in July 2016 the initial response was one of anger and frustration quickly followed by asking 'Why'," he said.

"There then came a sort of grieving period as we grappled with the practicalities of how to manage the restoration of the buildings. In time that was replaced with excitement, anticipation and hope as a newly refurbished building took shape.

"Looking back as a congregation we most firmly believe that out of what men meant for evil, came good and blessing.

"As a congregation we would welcome any initiatives by government to protect churches from further attacks."

Mark Baillie from CARE said they were "concerning figures and clearly action needs to be taken".

"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," he said.

"These attacks leave religious groups with property damage, potentially large insurance costs and fears of future attacks.

"The security protection funding scheme which is available in England and Wales for places of worship should be extended to Northern Ireland as a matter of urgency.

"We will be writing to all party leaders, calling on them to include a manifesto commitment to introduce such a scheme, which would undoubtedly be welcomed across NI."

Saintfield Road Presbyterian Church was attacked twice in 2016. Picture by Arthur Allison/Pacemaker

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