Attacks on places of worship occur 'every three days' in Northern Ireland

A paintbombed Catholic Church in Larne in February 2020. Credit: Pacemaker

There have been more than 600 attacks on places of worship in Northern Ireland in the last five years, prompting renewed calls for action to protect churches and other religious buildings. Christian Action Research and Education (CARE) has released the information, which it obtained in a Freedom of Information request to the PSNI.

On average this means in the last five years an attack on a place of worship has taken place approximately every three days. Belfast city has seen the most, with 173 attacks, more than a quarter of the total number.

A Church of Ireland church is targeted in an arson attack in Craigavon in July 2020. Credit: Pacemaker

With lockdown restrictions beginning to ease and churches returning to worship services, CARE NI has called on the Northern Ireland Executive to consider policies to ensure places of worship are properly protected. The charity 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. Created in July 2016, the fund provides financial resources so places of worship can buy security measures such as CCTV, fencing and lighting. The Scottish Government has announced they are 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, said he would support additional Government measures to protect places of worship: “In November 2019, our Church was broken into and vandalised. Significant damage was caused to our vestry and our sanctuary. “The individuals concerned managed to get in behind our organ while searching for valuables but fortunately there was nothing to take. “It left many of my parishioners deeply upset.

“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: “Last year, following CARE’s NI 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. “It is a human right for individuals to live out and practice their religious beliefs and attacks on places of worship offend against those rights. “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.”