Eighteen years on from the ceasefires and the despicable threat of violence is still, unfortunately, a feature within our communities.
The recent efforts by so called dissident republicans to frighten local priest Fr Gary Donegan and in some way to browbeat him in stopping his vital outreach and intervention work has to be regarded not just with revulsion but also collective denial.
Fr Donegan has served the local North Belfast community and beyond and has also spoken out against those who are at war with their own community. He has also given tangible support, guidance and offered alternatives and stability in times of fear. We, as a civic forum, wholeheartedly believe that his intentions and actions are genuine, real and required in terms of social justice and conflict transformation here. He has certainly not been frightened or averse to standing up for what he believes is right and we commend him for it.
However, any type of threat not just to him but others involved in necessary community based peacebuilding work - particularly one that has come from dissident republicans - is not just worrying but has to be considered as a disturbing development. As we are aware Fr Donegan has been vocal and proactive against those who murdered local father of four Michael McGibbon. A man shot and left to bleed to death in an alleyway in Ardoyne.
This extreme form of punishment which continues can never, in our current situation, be accepted or tolerated. There is no justification for violent acts and what Fr Donegan displayed was true leadership in standing with Mr McGibbon’s grieving widow. What he did was to call out and condemn those individuals who took a man’s life and shattered a young family – they took a life and he spoke out.
Because of this unstinting act of solidarity the reaction from dissident republicans has been aggressive. They have been publicly condemned over their actions against their own community and have yet again threatened violence.
No one should be threatened, bullied or intimidated for what they believe in or what they do or indeed be living under death threats in 2016. We have come through fear, pain and loss – and we have to stand up to those who are still devoted to violence and the way of the gun.
To those that are responsible for and dispensing the myriad of warnings and threats you have definitely no interest in the wellbeing of the people of not just Ardoyne but other decent, proud and hardworking areas in the North. You are serving only your own selfish and criminal interests.
We unreservedly support our Civil Society Network colleague Fr Donegan and others working on behalf of their local communities and they warrant our full backing at this challenging time.
We stand by and with Fr Gary and those working to bring about meaningful change in our communities.
Not in our name.
Barry Fennell, Signed on behalf of the Civil Society Network Steering Group, Antrim Rd, Belfast BT15