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Credit: Facebook/Alliance Party of Northern Ireland
Credit: Facebook/Alliance Party of Northern Ireland
UK News

NI justice minister proposes new security fund for churches that have been attacked

by Will Maule

The Northern Ireland justice minister Naomi Long is considering setting up a new security fund to help churches who have been victims of attacks.

Ms Long's proposal comes after it emerged that over 600 attacks on Northern Irish churches have been recorded since 2014/2015 - the figures were unearthed after CARE NI issued a freedom of information request on the matter. 

Long said that her officials "continue to explore evidence-based information in relation to attacks on places of worship" to determine whether the scheme is required. 

“This currently includes assessing criteria for the non-statute Places of Worship Security Fund that operates in England and Wales and the development of a similar scheme in Scotland, both of which focus on religiously motivated hate crime," she added.

Long said the issues needing to be considered include the types of building to be included, security measures that could be covered, administration of the scheme and available funding. 

She added that places of worship "play an important role in many communities and in many people’s lives" and recognised "the effect that an attack on a place of worship can have in terms of the distress and disruption that it causes to members of a faith community and any damage that is done to buildings as a result of an attack". 

Most of the attacks recorded over the past number of years have taken place in Belfast (173), followed by Lisburn and Castlereagh (60), Newry, Mourne and Down (58) and Ards and North Down (57).

Speaking after the figures were released last month, CARE NI's policy officer, Mark Baillie, told Premier that the crimes range from graffiti to full-blown arson, as seen in the case of Belfast's Saintfield Road Presbyterian Church, which was decimated by fire in 2016. 

"I've spoken to a number of ministers and elders who've been affected," he said. "The big damage has been psychological damage, knowing that someone out there came to 'our place of worship' and did this. And then it's the sapping of time, the issues around insurance costs and repair costs." 

Questioning Long on her plans to tackle the issue, the DUP's Paul Givan said:

"The statistics recently published equate to an attack on a place of worship every three days over the past five years.

“It is necessary to protect churches and places of worship from attack and vandalism and I support calls for a funding scheme to be implemented to provide additional protective security for these buildings and have raised this with the Justice Minister.

“With the return of public gatherings in churches and places of worship due to the easing of restrictions it is important that protection is offered to places where a possible risk of damage or attack is presented.”

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