Wife of murdered taxi driver Michael McGibbon slams GARC bullies who harassed Fr Gary Donegan in Ardoyne
Brave widow Joanne McGibbon has hit out at the republican bully boys who shouted vile abuse at peace-making priest Father Gary Donegan in Ardoyne.
Mum-of-four Joanne — whose husband Michael, 33, was brutally murdered by dissident republicans in Ardoyne in April — said she wished she had been by Fr Donegan’s side as he faced a tirade of abuse led by Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (GARC) spokesman Dee Fennell.
She was disgusted by footage of Fr Donegan being surrounded by chanting hecklers after a contentious Orange parade passed the Ardoyne shops last weekend following a local peace deal.
Hailing Fr Donegan as a “rock” who had the respect of the entire community, the young widow said: “I really wish I had been there with him, to stand beside him and to stand up to them. They didn’t hold back and he didn’t deserve that.
“Fr Donegan has only ever worked for the community and for peace in Ardoyne.
“Those people don’t want either, they want to ruin the community and they disgust me.
“They want to put fear into people and they aren’t even being discreet about it, I just wonder how they are allowed to get away with it.”
Nurse Joanne added: “Fr Donegan was brave in standing up to them and he is stronger than they are and he is a rock in the community.
“Peace will come about despite their efforts to ruin it because the majority of people in Ardoyne want peace and the majority of them support Fr Donegan and respect what he has done for the community.
“It is awful to see their bitterness so raw.”
Fr Donegan has ministered in the Ardoyne area for the last 15 years, and left his post in Holy Cross Church just this week to take up new duties at the Tobar Mhuire retreat centre in Crossgar.
He stood beside Joanne when she staged a vigil at Holy Cross Church in memory of her taxi driver husband, Michael, just days after he was murdered close to the family home.
Joanne used her nursing training as she fought to save her husband’s life after he was shot three times in the leg in an alleyway at Butler Place, close to their north Belfast home.
The couple have four children, Seana, Shea, Michaela and Corry-Leigh.
Living so close to the spot where her husband was murdered proved too much for the family and Joanne has now taken her children out of Belfast to help them rebuild their lives.
Since her husband’s murder she has bravely spoken out against dissident gunmen who, she said, are trying to instil fear into the Ardoyne community.
After watching the footage of the attack on Fr Donegan following last Saturday’s controversial parade, she said: “Fr Donegan is a strong man and he is stronger than they are.
“He has always done his best for the community in Ardoyne and the people who attacked him just want to destroy the community. They don’t want peace.”
Commenting on the local agreement which allowed the Ardoyne parade to finally go ahead last weekend, Joanne said: “Even with all the negativity that Fr Gary was so brave to endure, I think that it was a great achievement for both communities and a huge step forward towards peace and working together.
“We need to ignore the hatred on both sides because at the end of the day even they know good will overcome evil.”
Earlier this year Fr Donegan and Joanne presented a united front against the dissidents during the vigil in memory of Michael.
Newly widowed and heartbroken, Joanne urged the community to “stick together”, saying at the vigil: “If we all stay strong, we can stop these people because we are stronger than them and they can’t beat us.
“It’s not fair that families have to go through this. They are not judge and jury.
“I just pray to God and I hope that he’s watching over us that wherever we may go that he’s always watching over this community. We need to stay strong and stick together and fight for what’s yours.”
She added: “Nobody deserves it. They can’t beat you. We have to beat them.”
Standing beside Joanne, Fr Donegan told the vigil that people “from the shadows” had killed Mr McGibbon, and he urged them to “turn away from your futile deeds”.
He told the crowd gathered in support of the McGibbon family: “This little family are here with us to send out the strongest message to the dark forces that took Michael’s life.”
Fr Donegan said Mrs McGibbon had shown “more courage, conviction, compassion and mercy than you’ll ever know”.