The council has stepped up security at Carnmoney Cemetery following a weekend attack during which a number of graves was vandalised.
The graves of three prominent loyalists were among those targeted in the incident, which took place sometime on Friday night (October 18) or the early hours of Saturday morning.
A total of four graves in the Main Cemetery were damaged in the sickening attack, during which vandals kicked over memorials and covered headstones in grey paint.
There has been widespread condemnation of the attack, which some political and community representatives have branded “sectarian”.
At the council’s Policy and Governance Committee meeting on Monday night, the vandalism was condemned by members around the chamber, including UUP group leader John Scott, Alliance alderman John Blair and Sinn Fein councillor Gerry O’Reilly.
“It doesn’t matter who is buried down there or what they were, they should be left to rest in peace,” Cllr Scott commented.
Cllr O’Reilly, who asked if senior PSNI officers had been contacted about the incident, said that “no matter what creed, religion or political views someone may have had, their families have the right to visit the graves of their loved ones at the cemetery.”
Adding his condemnation, Alderman Blair said that the onus is on political representatives and others in the community “to work to ensure that tensions are not raised over matters of religion or faith.”
The DUP’s Phillip Brett, who visited the graveyard after the attack, said there are a lot of gaps in the fencing around the perimeter of the cemetery and asked council staff to take steps to secure the site.
Chief executive Jacqui Dixon assured members that security patrols at the cemetery have been stepped up, and she said that council officers have been in touch with senior police officers about measures aimed at preventing further attacks. However, she stressed that it was difficult to forecast such incidents and to mitigate against them.
Speaking to the Times on Tuesday, a council spokesperson added: “Council staff were on site quickly on Saturday to assist and helped clean up and reinstate headstones where possible. The council however has no liability for damage caused by vandalism in the cemetery. In addition to the distress that the vandalism has caused the families, they will, unfortunately, also have to cover any necessary repair costs.”
She added: “The council has been in contact with the PSNI about the incident and extra security measures were put in place over the weekend.”
Police have appealed for anyone with information about the incident to contact investigating officers at Newtownabbey Station on 0845 600 8000.