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Fr Gary Donegan: Belfast priest under threat from dissidents

Fr Gary Donegan with widow Joanne McGibbon at a candle light vigil held at Holy Cross Church following the murder of Mrs McGibbon's husband Michael in April. Picture by Philip Walsh

A PROMINENT priest in north Belfast has said he has been threatened by dissident republicans.

Fr Gary Donegan, rector of Holy Cross Church in Ardoyne, said the threats were made on social media against him and other community workers.

It is thought more than a dozen community workers have been threatened.

Fr Donegan said he would ignore the threats and continue his work.

"The question is what do they think a Catholic priest is supposed to do?" Fr Donegan said.

"My silver jubilee is coming up next week. I that time I have never followed anything apart from the Gospel."

Fr Donegan said he had received several threats before, particularly during the bitter Holy Cross dispute more than a decade ago.

"It's not the first time I've received threats. It's just that they've come from a different source this time," he said.

"I would ask these people to come to the church and speak to me face to face."

Fr Donegan said he had criticised police when he felt their operations were heavy-handed.

But he said he had also criticised dissidents when a bomb attack close to the church in 2014 had disrupted Mass-goers.

"I've never said anything that wasn't the truth, nothing I couldn't stand over," he said.

Bishop of Down and Connor Noel Treanor condemned the threats as "intolerable".

"To intimidate clergy, social and community workers and all those who are working tirelessly and peacefully in the service of their local community, especially those addressing pastoral and social concerns, is a weak and cowardly act on the part of those who themselves are threatened by the prospect and reality of peace, reconciliation and the rule of law.

"I offer my full support to Fr Gary Donegan and other community workers at this time, encouraging them to take notice of the support they have from their local community as they engage in pastoral outreach to those most in need."

Sinn Féin North Belfast assembly member Gerry Kelly said the threats "should be lifted immediately".

"This community has been through a lot in recent months following the murders of Conor McKee and Michael McGibbon by people masquerading as Republicans.

"This latest attempt to intimidate those working to improve the quality of life for all the people of North Belfast will end in failure."

The threats were also condemned by the SDLP's North Belfast MLA Nichola Mallon.

“No one in north Belfast or anywhere in our city should have to face the threat of violence because of the work they’re doing to support peace in our community," she said.

"Fr Gary Donegan's compassion for all people, regardless of their faith or background, permeates all he does. 

"Those who have threatened him and others working positively in our community are cowards. They have nothing to offer and should withdraw their reckless threats immediately.”

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