Belfast priest Donegan won't be silenced by dissidents threats are posted online
A north Belfast priest who spoke out against paramilitaries has refused to back down after being threatened by dissident republicans.
Father Gary Donegan said police had informed him in the past few days that posts were put on social media warning him and around a dozen others in the Ardoyne area.
More than 40 people under death threat have come to Fr Donegan in the past few weeks.
The priest from the Holy Cross church told this newspaper the threats to him came from a group with a dissident republican background.
Despite the messages, he refused to be intimidated and said that his door was always open if the culprits wanted to come and talk to him.
“I have never cowered before anything before and this won’t stop me,” Fr Donegan said.
“These people are saying that I shouldn’t work with statutory bodies, but the role for anyone within the Catholic Church is to work with all agencies. We are not politicians — we are there for the community.”
In April Fr Donegan criticised paramilitaries at a rally for murdered north Belfast taxi driver Michael McGibbon, the 33-year-old father-of-four who bled to death after he was shot in the legs by dissidents.
The priest said he believed he had been targeted because he “speaks out against things that are wrong and always advocates for things that are right”.
“I am 25 years ordained on the 16th of June,” Fr Donegan added. “During those 25 years, I have stood for peace and reconciliation — whether it’s been walking the kids to school, or whether it’s been up in Twaddell at night, I have been there for both communities.
“Earlier, when I was giving interviews, the reporters had to wait as I dealt with the 42nd threat to a family in the last six weeks.
“What are those people bringing? They are doing it to their own community, and it’s a sad day for alleged Irish republicans when a priest would be put under threat.”
SDLP North Belfast MLA Nichola Mallon said: “No one in north Belfast or anywhere in our city should have to face the threat of violence because of the work they’re doing to support peace in our community.
“Fr Gary Donegan’s compassion for all people, regardless of their faith or background, permeates all he does.
“Those who have threatened him and others working positively in our community are cowards. They have nothing to offer and should withdraw their reckless threats immediately.”
Last night a north Belfast dissident republican group suggested the threats had been fabricated by the authorities.
The Greater Ardoyne Residents’ Collective, which protests against Orange Order marches in the area, posted on Facebook: “Any ‘threat’ against a priest and/or ‘community workers’ would be totally counter-productive in terms of highlighting ongoing PSNI human rights abuses, and it is perhaps for that very reason that the MI5-directed PSNI has fabricated them.”