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1,000 new victims of Troubles emerge annually: Foster

By Noel McAdam

Published 09/06/2016

Father Gary Donegan, First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness
Father Gary Donegan, First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness

Around 1,000 new victims from the Troubles are emerging every year, First Minister Arlene Foster has revealed.

The DUP leader told the Stormont committee that monitors herself and Martin McGuinness that she regarded the figures as "quite staggering".

As Mrs Foster and the Deputy First Minister made their first appearance before the renamed Executive Committee yesterday, they also 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.

Mrs Foster and Mr McGuinness invited the cleric to Stormont 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". He said: "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."

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."

The DUP and Sinn Fein leaders of the Executive also indicated that the stalemate over national security - which prevented progress on victims issues in their Fresh Start deal last autumn - should be resolved soon.

Republicans have accused the Government of using national security as an excuse not to reveal crucial information.

Mrs Foster said there would be an attempt to resolve the impasse in the next couple of weeks.

Mrs Foster said about 1,000 new victims are coming forward annually to the victims' and survivors' service, which comes under her and Mr McGuinness' responsibilities.

"I find that quite staggering," she said.

Belfast Telegraph

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