Belfast Telegraph

Priest holds talks with the families of dissidents

A priest at the centre of talks with families of dissidents last night held a meeting in Londonderry, days after talking to the 32 County Sovereignty Committee, including member Gary Donnelly.

Donnelly has accused the PSNI of a systematic campaign of abuse against families of dissident republicans, claiming that parents of activists, as well as young children and pensioners had been targeted.

Father Paddy O’Kane, from Holy Family parish in Ballymagroarty, said he was following his duty as a priest by agreeing to the meeting.

He said that during the talks, he spoke out against those behind the Strand Road police station bomb attack as well as those behind recent disruptive hoax alerts.

Fr O’Kane has faced criticism, especially from unionists, over his decision to meet with the group.

But the priest said he had a pastoral duty to listen to the families’ concerns.

He said: “Those families are innocent, whatever their (dissident republican) supporters are doing. If they are in pain, the least I can do is listen to their pain.

“They are claiming to have complained about this (police behaviour) for some time and no-one wants to listen to them.”

SDLP MP Mark Durkan and Kate Carroll, whose husband Stephen was killed last year by the Continuity IRA, have spoken in support of Fr O’Kane’s decision to hold yesterday’s meeting.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Mrs Carroll said that she would be prepared to speak to anyone in order to stop the atrocities continuing.

Mr Durkan told the BBC the priest was right to hold the talks and that “as a pastor his door has to be open”.

He said he had also been contacted by families who have been the subject of police attention.

He continued: “Dissident republicans are free to come to any of us and challenge us.

“We, in turn, can robustly argue back that a campaign of violence and disruption in Derry is doing nothing at all for the cause of Ireland.”

A participant in yesterday’s talks, Kieran Boyle, said that he was “a republican but also a father”.

He went on to allege that despite a family member being a police officer, members of the PSNI had dragged his five-year-old son from a car, which had left him “traumatised”.

He claimed a woman in a nearby shop then took the child to safety as police held the car at gunpoint.

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