Catholic church disrupted by third bomb alert
Published 18/03/2013 | 04:20
Security is expected to be ramped up at a Catholic church caught up in its third security alert in just over a month.
Mass was cancelled at St Mary's Star of The Sea after police discovered a suspicious object on its driveway shortly before 8am on Sunday.
Residents were evacuated from nearby houses and roads around the north Belfast church were closed in the alert, which lasted for nearly three hours. It was later declared an elaborate hoax.
Parish priest Fr Anthony Alexander said he was looking at ways to enhance security at the Shore Road church – which is under police surveillance after previous incidents.
Mass was also cancelled on February 2 and roads closed as army technical officers carried out a controlled explosion on a suspicious object in the church's grounds. That was also a hoax.
At the time, Fr Alexander said he believed the hoax could be linked to two viable pipe bombs discovered at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church on Doagh Road in Ballyclare the previous day.
Since then, St Mary's Star Of The Sea has been targeted in two further hoax alerts, including Sunday's, which the priest described as a "sad and worrying development".
"I try not to react and I refuse to get annoyed," he said.
"It's the old people I worry about. It's hard on them and it worries them."
One of the residents was too ill to be moved from their home in Sunday's alert, while Mass was moved to a neighbouring church.
"What these people are trying to achieve, I do not know," Fr Alexander said. "I'd just like it to stop."
The alerts have been described as a concerted campaign to intimidate Catholics in the area.
"Clearly over the last number of weeks there has been a concerted campaign to disrupt and try to intimidate the Catholic population in the Newtownabbey area," Gerard O'Reilly, a Sinn Fein councillor for the area, said.
"This is the lowest point of sectarianism when people's place of worship is targeted."
The DUP's Dineen Walker described the incidents as a "disgrace", but added: "I cannot see it as sectarian. It has not been proven who is doing it."
Meanwhile, a suspicious object found close to a GAA pitch in Glengormley sparked a security alert for three hours on Saturday.
It was later described as an elaborate hoax.