PSNI's priest assault

Fr Gary left battered and bruised after Monday’s Orange march

Holy Cross priest Fr Gary Donegan was left battered and bruised after members of the PSNI surrounded him at the height of disturbances, which erupted between Nationalists and the British army in Ardoyne last Monday night.

The well-known priest, along with his colleagues Fr Aidan and Fr John, were part of a consortium of peace makers observing the controversial Orange Order feeder parade which marched past nationalist homes and shops in Ardoyne on the Twelfth night.

When the supporters of the march were allowed to pass through, that’s when PSNI shields and batons crushed Fr Gary, who was trying to help a steward alleviate the tension.

“It all happened when they [PSNI] were trying to create a corridor to let the [British] army back out of Ardoyne Road so they could diffuse the situation,” Fr Gary said.

“I was helping the steward to do this when the PSNI came down with their batons and riot gear and shields. There was nowhere to go on the Ardoyne Road. There was no place for me to go. Marshals were shouting and pointing directions for the army to move but I was stuck in the middle of it all. I was caught and that was it.”
The priest who is from County Fermanagh and arrived in Holy Cross parish in 2001 said that he wasn’t afraid for himself, but for others in the crowd and his fellow priests.

“The fear wasn’t for me. It was for others that were there. I was fearful that the situation could have got out of hand and lives could have been lost. When we’re there we try to keep a presence of dignity and to show others that their priests are with them through thick and thin and that we are witnessing what’s going on.

“These people were really up against it in every sense and we knew it was going to be difficult to try and diffuse a very dangerous situation. Whoever had deployed the Army on that part of the Ardoyne Road had completely misread the situation. Getting them out we knew was going to cause panic and confusion.”

During the clashes with the security forces in Ardoyne Fr Gary along with Fr Aidan administered the last rites to Thomas Clarke who suffered a heart attack during the riots near his home in Brompton Park.

“We’re there for lots of reasons and it just so happened that we were able to give the last rites to Thomas Clarke. The family despite all their terrible loss were glad that they had their priest there. And that’s just part of our role. During times like this we like to show a sense of presence – just to let people know we’re there. We’re there to create a buffer so that people can voice their frustration through us as mediators and on several occasions we were able to do that.”

Journalist:: Staff Reporter

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