Northern Ireland churches attacked almost 450 times in three years

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A damaged statue of Christ on a crucifix
Image caption,
Paint was daubed on this statue in Limavady in 2018

Places of worship in Northern Ireland have been attacked more than 400 times in the past three years, figures show.

Christian Action Research and Education (CARE) NI said there were 445 recorded cases of criminal damage.

The charity's figures came from a Freedom of Information request (FOI) to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

It has called on political parties to help set up a fund for extra security.

On average, an attack on religious buildings, churchyards and cemeteries happens almost every other day, the charity said.

The figures show that attacks have happened in every one of Northern Ireland's 11 policing districts.

CARE called for more support to be given to churches and other religious buildings.

Attacks on NI religious buildings. . The number of attacks on NI religious buildings in the past three years. .

A letter has been sent to political leaders asking for a commitment to set up a fund in Northern Ireland, similar to a scheme in England and Wales.

Created in July 2016, the places of worship (POW) protective security funding scheme provides financial resources to religious organisations, helping them buy security measures such as CCTV, fencing and lighting.

Image source, © Dean Molyneaux/CC Geograph
Image caption,
Saintfield Road Presbyterian Church was targeted by vandals in 2016

Dr Alistair McCracken, clerk of session at Saintfield Road Presbyterian Church, said he would support any government measures to protect churches.

He said two arson attacks on the church in July 2016 had brought anger and frustration.

"There then came a sort of grieving period as we grappled with the practicalities of how to manage the restoration of the buildings," he said.

"As a congregation, we would welcome any initiatives by government to protect churches from further attacks."

Image caption,
Holy Family Church in Ballymagroarty in Derry was targeted in an arson attack in May 2019.

CARE Northern Ireland's policy officer Mark Baillie said 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."