Northern Ireland has registered over 600 attacks on churches and other places of worship over the past five years for an average of one attack every three days, a new report reveals.
CARE NI, a Christian charity, made a Freedom of Information request and found that there have been 601 crimes recorded as criminal damage to religious buildings, churchyards, or cemeteries in Northern Ireland since 2014/15.
The highest number of attacks on places of worship — more than a quarter — have taken place in Belfast City, which has suffered 173 incidents of vandalism, profanation, arson, graffiti, and desecration.
CARE said that the surprisingly high number of incidents has prompted renewed calls for action to protect churches and other religious buildings, adding that the Executive needs to consider policies to meet this need, which could include installation of CCTV, fencing, and lighting.
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Rev. Aaron McAlister, Rector of Derriaghy Parish Church in County Antrim, said he would support such measures.
“In November 2019, our Church was broken in to and vandalised. Significant damage was caused to our vestry and our sanctuary,” Rev. McAlister said.
“The individuals concerned managed to get in behind our organ while searching for valuables but fortunately there was nothing to take,” he added. “It left many of my parishioners deeply upset. An attack on a place of worship is an attack on the community that worships there.”
“I would support additional Government measures to protect places of worship. Action to prevent attacks happening to other faith communities would be hugely welcome,” he noted.
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CARE NI Policy Officer, Mark Baillie, registered his agreement, saying that churches and other places of worship in Northern Ireland have been attacked with “alarming regularity.”
“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,” Mr. Baillie said.
“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,” he said. “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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