21/08/2019

Over 400 Attacks On Religious Buildings Reported Since 2016

A Christian charity has called for more protections for places of worship in Northern Ireland after over 400 attacks in the last three years.

Some 445 incidents of criminal damage to religious buildings, churchyards or cemeteries have been reported since 2016- a figure that amounts to one attack almost every other day.

The Christian Access Research and Education (Care NI) charity obtained the data from the PSNI using a Freedom of Information Act and intends to write to political leaders for specific funds to support the preservation of religious buildings.

Among the churches targeted was Saintfield Road Presbyterian, which suffered two arson attacks in July 2016, while the Sacred Heart Church in Ballyclare was attacked with paint on Easter Sunday of this year- a sacred day in the Christian calendar.

The charity is calling for a specific manifesto similar to Places of Worship, a proactive security funding scheme created in July 2016 for religious buildings in England and Wales. This initiative funds the provision of security measures such as CCTV, fencing and lighting.

The Places of Worship funding was boosted to £1.9 million in 2019, but Northern Ireland is so far without a comparable scheme.
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Dr Alistair McCracken, Clerk of Session at 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?' 

"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."

CARE Northern Ireland's Policy Officer, Mark Baillie called for Government intervention to allow religious people to gather in worship without fear of attack.

He said: "Our research shows that there are crimes being committed against places of worship nearly every other day in Northern Ireland.

"It's not limited to one location and there are recorded examples in every policing district across the Province.

"These are 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.

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



(JG/CM)

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