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Naomi Long planning new legislation to help protect Northern Ireland church property from attack

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Commitment: Naomi Long

Commitment: Naomi Long

Commitment: Naomi Long

Justice Minister Naomi Long is planning to bring in legislation to help protect Northern Ireland's religious buildings from attacks.

The Alliance Party leader confirmed that between 2016 and 2019 there were 445 recorded attacks on places of worship including churches, churchyards and cemeteries.

Her commitment to bring in the legislation came in response to a ministerial question tabled by North Down DUP MLA Gordon Dunne.

The introduction of a Places of Worship Security Scheme would bring Northern Ireland into line with England and Wales, who both have the protection in operation.

In her response to Mr Dunne, Mrs Long said: "My officials are currently exploring evidence-based information in relation to attacks on places of worship, in liaison with the police, as well as criteria for the Places of Worship Security Fund that operates in England and Wales to assess if any similar scheme for Northern Ireland is required.

"I will consider this further once I have had the opportunity to reflect on the findings."

Welcoming the news, Mr Dunne said such a scheme would allow voluntary faith communities to apply for funding to introduce security measures on their properties.

"Many faith communities are small and may struggle financially to install such security measures to protect themselves from attack so such a scheme may prove valuable," explained the North Down MLA.

"Freedom of religion and belief is a bedrock value of our society. Each and every person who lives here has a right to live out their faith and to worship with others.

"No one in Northern Ireland should be attacked because of their religious beliefs and as a society we should not tolerate attacks on any place of worship here.

"An attack on a place of worship is an attack on the community who worships there."

He added that Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom without such a scheme in place and hopes it will be introduced sooner rather than later.

According to PSNI data on incidents and crimes with a hate motivation that was released last November, there were five attacks recorded at churches or chapels between October 2017 and September 2018, and eight attacks between October 2018 and September 2019.

The Department of Justice was asked if any new legislation protecting religious buildings would include those belonging to the Orange Order.

Belfast Telegraph