The charity Christian Action Research and Education Northern Ireland (Care NI) has found that there were 445 crimes recorded as criminal damage to religious buildings, churchyards or cemeteries in Northern Ireland in the last three years.
The figures emerged following a freedom of information request by the charity which has called for immediate action to protect churches and other religious buildings there.
It found, for instance, that Saintfield Road Presbyterian Church in Belfast suffered two arson attacks in July 2016, and that it took two years for the building to be repaired. More recently on Easter Sunday last April the Catholic Sacred Heart Church in Ballyclare, Co Antrim was attacked with paint.
Many of the attacks were on Catholic churches. Last March significant damage was caused to a disused Catholic church, the Church of the Resurrection on Cavehill Road in Belfast, while in July of last year the Catholic St Mary’s parish church in Limavady Co Derry was sprayed with paramilitary graffiti reading ‘UDA’ and ‘UFF.’
In April last year two Catholic churches, the 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.
In September 2017 the Church of Ireland Christ Church in Derry was attacked with its organ destroyed and windows broken. The vandals also defecated and urinated on the premises.
In January 2017 the Catholic St Patrick’s Church on Donegal Street in Belfast was set on fire in an arson attack, causing over €10,000 worth of damage.
Both the Belfast Synagogue and Belfast Islamic Centre have also suffered property damage in attacks over the last 10 years.
Care NI has called for more support to be made available to churches and other religious buildings in Northern Ireland. They will be writing to all party leaders asking for a specific commitment to set up a fund similar to the Places of Worship (POW) protective security funding scheme, already available to religious buildings in England and Wales.
Created in July 2016, the POW fund provides financial assistance to places of worship so they can afford security measures such as CCTV, fencing and lighting. The scheme’s funding was boosted to €1.75 million in 2019, with a further €5.5 million to provide security training for places of worship.
There is no comparable scheme in Northern Ireland.