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Sinn Fein and SDLP row over who stood up for underfire Ardoyne priest


Gerard McCusker threatens Sunday Life reporter Christopher Woodhouse

Gerard McCusker threatens Sunday Life reporter Christopher Woodhouse

Paul McCusker and Nichola Mallon watch on as Dee Fennell confronts Fr Gary Donegan

Paul McCusker and Nichola Mallon watch on as Dee Fennell confronts Fr Gary Donegan

Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX


Gerard McCusker threatens Sunday Life reporter Christopher Woodhouse

A war of words between two former Belfast Lord Mayors has erupted online after a senior Sinn Fein politician accused an SDLP MLA of failing to stand up for a priest berated by dissidents at a parade.

Ardoyne cleric Father Gary Donegan bore the brunt of anger from hardline dissident republican protesters after a contentious Orange Order parade was permitted to pass a contested stretch of road in north Belfast on Saturday.

The high-profile priest has been widely praised for his dignity in the face of a tirade of abuse from dissident republicans, such as Dee Fennell of the Greater Ardoyne Residents' Collective (GARC), which opposed the parade peace deal.

The crowd shouted "shame" at Fr Donegan, who has called on the group to abandon its protest against Orange parades following the agreement.

One of the group, a brother of an SDLP councillor, also threatened a Sunday Life journalist, saying he was "coming after him".

The group tried to confront North Belfast Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly, but were blocked by ranks of riot police.

Last night Sinn Fein MLA Alex Maskey suggested the SDLP's Nichola Mallon - both are former Lord Mayors - had failed to act while Fr Donegan was abused.

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"Was Nichola Mallon SDLP close to Fr Gary Donegan when he was being baited by protesters?" he wrote, posting a video of the scene.

But Ms Mallon replied: "I pushed though the crowd twice to personally intervene to help Fr Gary so appalled was I by his treatment."

One republican backed Mr Maskey, tweeting: "You watched on, as Fr Gary was receiving a barracking and didn't intervene - yet you're the local MLA?"

However, South Belfast SDLP MLA Claire Hanna retorted: "Have you not watched the video? She very clearly walked to his side & offered support.

"What else would you suggest she do?"

She also accused Mr Maskey of trying to "smear" Ms Mallon.

Ulster Unionist MLA Jenny Palmer tweeted: "Well done Nichola - very courageous lady."

Another bystander to the 'Twitterstorm' asked: "What do they expect her to do, throw punches?"

And another said Ms Mallon was "leading the way and going beyond public duty".

Meanwhile, SDLP councillor Paul McCusker, whose brother Gerard threatened Sunday Life journalist Christopher Woodhouse, has not publicly responded to the actions of his sibling. Councillor McCusker was not present at a Belfast City Council meeting last night, and did not respond to repeated phone calls from the Belfast Telegraph.

Another SDLP councillor made apologies on behalf of Mr McCusker for not being able to attend the City Hall meeting.

The SDLP did not return a request for comment.

The PSNI said: "Enquiries into the matter are currently ongoing."

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