Northern Ireland

Belfast priest Fr Gary Donegan meets with first and deputy first ministers after threats

Arlene Foster, Fr Gary Donegan and Martin McGuinness
Image caption Fr Gary Donegan said the invitation from the ministers was a 'wonderful gesture'

A Catholic priest from north Belfast who was threatened by a criminal gang has met with the first and deputy first ministers at Stormont Castle.

Father Gary Donegan said he was "humbled" to meet with Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness.

"I think what they're doing here is the leadership that we all asked for and we all hoped for," he said.

The priest said he and other community workers were told by police that threats had been issued against them.

Fr Donegan, from Holy Cross church in Ardoyne, said earlier this week that the threats were from a "dissident republican background".

Last month, he said he was aware of 25 individuals who had been threatened with paramilitary violence.

'Not deterred'

Speaking after the meeting with the ministers, he said: "I think this augurs well for the kind of leadership we want.

"For them to take time out of their very busy schedule to send this message out is a wonderful gesture," he said.

"I'm not a politician or a humanitarian or a social worker - I'm a priest.

"I'm actually meant to work for all aspects of the community and I will continue to do so and no-one will deter me.

Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption Martin McGuinness said Fr Donegan had made an 'incredible contribution' to the Ardoyne area

"To these people who are allegedly making these threats, real or imagined, the reality is come and talk.

"I'm not afraid to speak to anybody, the door is open to you all."

Mrs Foster said that Fr Donegan was invited to the meeting because the first and deputy first ministers wanted "to stand in solidarity with him and indeed with all of those who have been the subject of threats from faceless people in north Belfast".

She added that Tuesday's independent report on paramilitaries in Northern Ireland offered "specific actions" that could help deal with "people who are using a badge of convenience for criminal acts".

Mr McGuinness said it was "absolutely ridiculous that people who are identified 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".

"I think that those people who are involved in these threats need to stop and they need to recognise that they are totally counter-productive," he said.

"The last person in the world they will intimidate is Fr Gary, someone who has stood up for ordinary people in some of the most difficult circumstances that Belfast has ever seen."

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