map of Northern Ireland with a broken cross

Revealed: more than 400 attacks on NI places of worship in last 3 years

21st Aug 2019 - James Mildred

Places of worship across Northern Ireland have been subject to nearly 450 recorded attacks over the last three years, prompting calls for immediate action to protect churches and other religious buildings.

Following a freedom of information request, CARE NI can exclusively reveal there were 445 crimes recorded as criminal damage to religious buildings, churchyards or cemeteries in Northern Ireland across the 11 policing districts in the last three years.

On average this means a crime against a place of worship has taken place almost every other day.

In one particularly shocking example, Saintfield Road Presbyterian Church suffered two arson attacks in July 2016 and it took a full two years for the church building to be repaired. In another more recent example on Easter Sunday this year, a key date in the Christian calendar, the Sacred Heart Church in Ballyclare was attacked with paint.

CARE NI is today (Wednesday, 21 August) calling for more support to be made available to churches and other religious buildings and the charity will be writing to all party leaders, asking for a specific manifesto commitment to set up a fund in NI like the Places of Worship: protective security funding scheme which is available to religious buildings in England and Wales.

Created in July 2016, the fund provides financial resources for places of worship so they can buy security measures such as CCTV, fencing and lighting. The scheme’s funding was boosted to £1.6m in 2019, with a further £5m to provide security training for places of worship, but at the moment there is no comparable scheme in Northern Ireland.

Dr Alistair McCracken, Clerk of Session, 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 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.

“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.”

ENDS

Notes to editors:

For interview requests or more information please contact James Mildred: james.mildred@care.org.uk // 07717516814

CARE is a well-established mainstream Christian charity providing resources and helping to bring Christian insight and experience to matters of public policy and practical caring initiatives. CARE is represented in the UK Parliaments and Assemblies. 

Here is a breakdown of the information received from the PSNI, following an FOI request:  

Number of crimes recorded as criminal damage by policing district where the MO location subtype is church/religious building, churchyard, or cemetery, 2016/17-2018/19

         

The following table was produced by searching for recorded crimes of criminal damage, where the 'mo_location_subtype' field contained 'church/religious building', 'churchyard' or 'cemetery' for the requested years.

This information is based on data extracted from a live system and may be subject to change.  It is dependent on the information having been input into the system in such a way as to identify those records that are relevant.

         

District

2016/17

2017/18

2018/19

 

Belfast City

58

46

43

 

Lisburn & Castlereagh City

13

14

13

 

Ards & North Down

13

13

8

 

Newry, Mourne & Down

9

10

16

 

Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon

8

11

14

 

Mid Ulster

5

7

8

 

Fermanagh & Omagh

8

6

3

 

Derry City & Strabane

10

5

8

 

Causeway Coast & Glens

8

12

12

 

Mid & East Antrim

10

12

12

 

Antrim & Newtownabbey

7

13

10

 

Northern Ireland

149

149

147

 
         

Some notable examples of attacks on places of worship

  • On 21 April 2019, Easter Sunday, Sacred Heart Church in Ballyclare was attacked with paint.

  • In March 2019, vandals caused significant damaged in a disused church, the Church of the Resurrection on the Cavehill Road in Belfast.

  • In July 2018, St Mary's parish church, in Limavady was sprayed with paramilitary graffiti reading ‘UDA’ and ‘UFF.’

  • In April 2018, two churches, Carrickmore Chapel in Co Tyrone and St Patrick's Cathedral in Co Armagh, were vandalised with graffiti prior to the referendum on abortion in the Republic of Ireland.

  • In September 2017, Christ Church in Londonderry was vandalised. Vandals broke glass windows dating back to 1800s, defecated and urinated on the premises and destroyed the organ.

  • In January 2017, St Patrick's Church on Donegall Street in Belfast was set on fire in an arson attack, causing over £10,000 worth of damage.

  • In July 2016, Saintfield Road Presbyterian Church suffered two arson attacks on their property leading to extensive damage. It took two years for the church to fully reopen.

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

The Home Office launched the Places of Worship: protective security funding scheme in 2016: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/places-of-worship-security-funding-scheme

In March 2019, the Home Office announced more funding: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/places-of-worship-to-get-security-funding-boost

 

Subscribe

Get the latest updates
on our work

Archive