Belfast Telegraph

Victims to the forefront as Will and Kate delight party

Royal couple mingle with guests as priest living under dissident republican death threats defies terrorists to attend State extravaganza

By Ivan Little

The family of a prison officer murdered by dissident republicans in Belfast and the Ardoyne priest living under death threat from the same terrorists were among 2,000 guests at a garden party attended by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge yesterday.

Shortly before arriving at Hillsborough Castle, the royal couple honoured the victims of the most recent onslaught of global terrorism - the 49 people killed in a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, earlier this week.

Prince William and Kate signed a book of condolence at the US Embassy in London before flying to Northern Ireland for the Secretary of State's annual garden party.

There, the Chief Constable of the PSNI, George Hamilton, and senior Army officers were among the first people that they met.

Later, as the royal couple walked through the castle's grounds to talk to representatives of charities, youth organisations and community groups, the Chief Constable chatted briefly with the widow of Adrian Ismay.

The 52-year-old prison officer died in March - just 11 days after he was seriously injured by a bomb that partially exploded underneath his van as he drove to work from his home in the Cregagh area. The New IRA admitted that it carried out the attack.

Mr Ismay's family have not spoken publicly about the killing, and today his widow Sharon declined to talk about her invitation to the garden party.

Mrs Ismay was flanked by her three daughters - Sarah, Tori and Samantha, who suffers from Down's syndrome - as Prince William circulated among and chatted with guests.

But the family were not among the people who were presented to the royal visitor.

Another guest at the garden party was Fr Gary Donegan, the Ardoyne priest whose life has been threatened by dissidents who have also said they are targeting other community workers in north Belfast.

The Holy Cross rector revealed that he had just received another death threat in a letter, but he said he would not be deterred from working for peace and reconciliation.

"There have been threats on social media and this is my second letter," he added.

"I am obviously concerned by the threats, but I just have to live with them. I won't let them control my life."

Fr Donegan added he was not worried about what his opponents would think about him accepting an invitation to a royal engagement.

"It's not my first one," he explained. "I always feel that if someone goes to the trouble of inviting you to something, the least that you can do is to attend.

"It's a chance to mix with people from all communities. I get invited to events connected to 1916 and the Somme, and I think that all reflects what I do, which is to try and be there for everybody.

"I won't shy away from any responsibility. I will have been ordained for 25 years on Thursday, and I was ordained for all the community, no matter what creed or gender they are. I am open to everybody."

Outside the garden party, the low-key security arrangements in the build-up to the event stood in stark contrast to those that used to be in place just a few years ago.

In the past, Hillsborough was placed in a state of lockdown for royal visits, with checkpoints on all roads leading into the village.

William and Kate flew home after spending around 75 minutes at the party.

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