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Stormont leaders stand 'shoulder to shoulder' with death threat priest

Published 08/06/2016

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (right) with Father Gary Donegan (left) at Stormont Castle (Press Eye)
First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (right) with Father Gary Donegan (left) at Stormont Castle (Press Eye)

Stormont's leaders have vowed to stand shoulder to shoulder with a north Belfast priest who has been issued with a death threat by dissident republicans.

Father Gary Donegan has been a vocal critic of the gunmen behind murders and paramilitary-style vigilante attacks in the Ardoyne community where he is parish priest.

He along with a number of other community figures, including social workers, have been told by police that threats have been made against them.

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness invited the cleric to Stormont Castle to offer their support.

Outside they made a very public demonstration of solidarity, standing either side of the priest as they condemned those behind the threats.

Mrs Foster said the dissidents used a badge of convenience for criminal acts.

"We want to stand in solidarity with him and indeed with all those who have been the subject of threats from faceless people in north Belfast," she said.

"We just wanted to say to him that we stand shoulder to shoulder with him and all of those in north Belfast."

Mr McGuinness branded the threats "despicable".

"This is about showing solidarity with someone who has made an immense contribution to our entire community and to peace-making in our community and I think it is absolutely ridiculous that people who are identified really as so-called dissident republicans have been at the heart of threatening a man who has made an incredible contribution to life in the Ardoyne area."

He added: "The last person in the world they will intimidate is Father Gary."

The priest said he was humbled by the gesture.

"I am very humbled to be standing between these two people who we know have begun this new governance and I think what they are doing here is the leadership we all ask for and we all hope for," he said.

He added: "It's not just about me but the other people (who have been threatened), people who are working with young people."

The cleric was in defiant form as he insisted he would not be intimidated.

"If I see an injustice I will speak out about it, no-one will cower me, no-one will make me bend the knee," he said.

"In fact I will be even more determined to stand up for the rights of people."

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From Belfast Telegraph