Joseph Kelly

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NI security scheme for places of worship ‘a really good idea’, says priest

A Catholic priest is supporting a call for a fund to support places of worship in Northern Ireland which are under attack.

Christian public policy charity CARE revealed that almost 450 attacks have been recorded in places of worship in Northern Ireland since 2016, following a freedom of information request.

This prompted calls for a funding scheme to make places of worship more secure.

Father Eugene O’Neill, parish priest of St Patrick’s Catholic Church in Belfast, said this was “a really good idea.”

A places of worship: protective security funding scheme is already available to religious buildings in England and Wales.

Created in July 2016, the fund provides financial resources for places of worship to buy security measures such as CCTV, fencing and lighting. However, there is currently no comparable scheme in Northern Ireland.

Fr. O’Neill told The Catholic Universe that attacks upon St Patrick’s have been commonplace. “There have been 6 attacks on our church in this three-year period,“ he said.

“This is not a sectarian problem, but the area where my church is situated experiences high levels of poverty and drugs,” he said.

Fr O’Neill said the problem was not limited to Christian places of worship and that “at least one Islamic place of worship” had been attacked.

“My intuition is that it’s linked in with the drugs issue. I also run a soup kitchen in the parish. Could there be a link between these social problems and the vandalism?”, he said.

An arson attack in 2017 left the St Patrick’s community badly shaken. “Any attack in the community creates a sense of fear and apprehension and tends to make people anxious about coming into our building,” Fr. O’Neill said.

“We were determined to keep the church open all the time, but we had to put in some security measures, including regular walkarounds and a video surveillance system.”

Mark Baillie, CARE Northern Ireland’s Policy Officer, said a new fund would help address the issue of attacks on places of worship.

“These are concerning figures and clearly action needs to be taken,” he said.

“The security protection funding scheme which is available in England and Wales for places of worship should be extended to Northern Ireland as a matter of urgency.

“We will be writing to all party leaders, calling on them to include a manifesto commitment to introduce such a scheme, which would undoubtedly be welcomed across Northern Ireland.”

Picture: A smashed statue of Jesus lies among other broken religious artefacts at Our Lady of the Angels Oratory on Greencastle Street, Kilkeel, Co. Down. 

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