Northern Ireland churches need help with repairs

23 August 2019

ISTOCK

A FUND to help congregations meet the costs of restoration and repair of vandalised churches, graveyards, and halls, already in operation in England and Wales, should be extended to Northern Ireland, the Christian Action Research and Education (CARE) group said on Wednesday.

According to CARE, 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.

In a statement, the CARE press officer, Mark Baillie, said: “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 calling for more support to be made available to churches and other religious buildings, and it will be writing to all party leaders asking for a specific manifesto commitment to set up a fund in Northern Ireland like the Places of Worship [POW] protective security funding scheme which is available to religious buildings in England and Wales.

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

The statistics cover all the main denominations, and are often sectarian, but do not include acts of vandalism in the Republic, where a number of high-profile attacks have taken place in recent years, usually categorised by police and clergy as simply vandalism.

Among them was the destruction of the interior of the Church of Ireland church at Errislannan, in Co. Galway (News, 3 November 2017); an attack on the windows at St Catherine’s, Tullamore, in Co. Offaly (News, 9 November 2018); and the desecration of vaults and mummified remains at St Michan’s, Dublin (News, 1 March 2019).

A Church of Ireland spokesman declined to comment on the CARE report.

Muslim assault. A Muslim teenager was pelted with eggs and allegedly had her hijab pulled off by a gang of youths in a Dublin suburban village on Sunday afternoon. She was walking with another female companion on Main Street, in Dundrum, when the incident occurred.

The gang responsible are believed to be both male and female, and Gardaí have identified suspects who are alleged to have been involved in other incidents at the same location and time. They do not believe that the attack was a “hate crime”, although all options would be considered as part of the investigation.

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