Co Antrim church damaged in arson attack

St Mary's Star of the Sea Church on the Shore Road in Newtownabbey
St Mary's Star of the Sea Church on the Shore Road in Newtownabbey

Police are treating the arson attack on a north Belfast church as a hate crime.

Scorch damage was caused to the front door of St Mary’s Star of the Sea church around 1.30am today.

A PSNI spokesman said police believe that flammable liquid was set alight causing scorch damage to the door.

“A forensic examination of the scene has taken place,” he said.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Down and Connor said the “cowardly and destructive attack on St Mary’s Star of the Sea Church has left the parish priest, parishioners and wider community deeply appalled and upset”.

“This futile action is completely at variance with the very strong cross community relationships experienced by local clergy and parishioners and they have taken great consolation in receiving support from all following this attack on their place of worship,” he added.

“Such senseless actions only serve to escalate tensions at a time of the year when every effort must be made by all citizens to promote respect and peace.

“Places of worship hold deep significance for their entire community and for their congregation and they should not be targeted.

“I appeal to all who have information in relation to this attack on Star of the Sea Church to assist the PSNI with their investigations.”

North Belfast DUP MP Nigel Dodds has condemned the incident as “a senseless attack”.

He said: “Those who carried out this utterly appalling action only want to stir up tensions and cause offence. I hope everyone will be calm and there will not be a tit-for-tat response.

“Places of worship should be respected. Everyone should treat another place of worship in the way they would like theirs to be treated.

“I trust the police will fully investigate this act and any one with information will assist them in their efforts.”

Alliance Councillor for the area Billy Webb also condemned the incident.

“No place of worship should ever be subjected to any attack,” he said. “This is not the first time St Mary’s Star of the Sea has become a target and this thuggish behaviour must be brought to an end. I am shocked and horrified it has yet again become a target.

“This latest attack on the church will sadden the parish priest, the parishioners and the local community representing all faiths – “Those doing this really need to take a step back. This is just an attack on us all.

“This campaign of intolerance must be brought to an end quickly and I would urge anyone with information to contact the PSNI as soon as possible so that those responsible may be dealt with before the courts.”

Sinn Féin Councillor Gerry O’Reilly said: “The people who attempted to set fire to the St Mary’s Church on the Shore Road need to realise they are not representative of the local community who see their deeds as hateful and despicable.

“This is not the first time that St Mary’s Church has been attacked but fortunately the fire do not take hold.

“I would appeal to anyone with information to bring it forward to the PSNI immediately.”

The PSNI spokesman said information on the attack can be given to police at Newtownabbey on the 101 non-emergency number, or by contacting Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.