THE ORANGE Order is lobbying for new legislation to be introduced in Northern Ireland that will see the public pay for security at its halls.
Justice Minister Naomi Long is currently mulling over whether to support a Places of Worship (PoW) protective funding scheme being pushed through the Assembly.
The project, which already exists in England and Wales, allows places of worship and faith community centres to apply for cash from a £1.6m public pot to improve building security. This includes CCTV coverage, reinforced windows and doors, and intruder alarm systems.
Because Orange halls are not considered places of worship the Order is insisting that if the legislation is rolled out here it should be broadened to cover "symbolic buildings".
But the proposal could face opposition from nationalist parties in the Assembly.
A spokesman for the Orange Order said it would welcome a "broader Northern Ireland specific legislation which should also include 'symbolic' buildings which have been prone to high levels of hate crime".
He added: "Since the signing of the 1998 Belfast Agreement there have been more than 600 recorded attacks on Orange halls and as such, we would certainly be keen to investigate how such a scheme could offer enhanced levels of protection for our properties."
Details about the introduction of a PoW protective funding scheme being introduced in Northern Ireland were revealed by Justice Minister Naomi Long in a written response to an Assembly question by DUP South Antrim MLA Pam Cameron.
Ms Long (below) said her officials are working with the PSNI in exploring evidence in relation to attacks on places of worship to establish whether it would be viable in Northern Ireland.
She said: "If a scheme were to be introduced in Northern Ireland there are other issues that may need to be considered such as: the types of building to be included; security measures that could be covered; administration of the scheme and available funding.
"I will want to reflect on these issues and the findings provided by my officials before reaching a conclusion in the months ahead."
Christian organisations in Northern Ireland have been lobbying heavily for some time for the Assembly to introduce a PoW scheme.
Data compiled by the charity CARE shows 445 police reported criminal damage incidents occurring at churches, religious buildings and cemeteries between 2016 and 2019.
Dr Alistair McCracken, Clerk of Session at Saintfield Road Presbyterian Church which which was targeted twice by arsonists, said: "As a congregation we would welcome any initiatives by government to protect churches from further attacks."
CARE Northern Ireland's policy officer, Mark Baillie, added: "These are concerning figures and clearly action needs to be taken.
"These attacks leave religious groups with property damage, potentially large insurance costs and fears of future attacks.
"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."