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Last Updated: Monday, 15 September, 2003, 13:32 GMT 14:32 UK
Priest gets loyalist death threat
Fr Dan Whyte
Fr Dan Whyte: Outraged at threat
A parish priest who led a blessing of graves ceremony has been warned his life is in danger.

Fr Dan Whyte said police told him to review his personal security after receiving what they described as "reliable intelligence" about death threats from loyalist paramilitaries.

It is understood that a caller from the Loyalist Action Force threatened to "execute" Fr Whyte, who is Parish Priest of St Mary's on the Hill Catholic Church in Glengormley.

The call was made on the confidential police line.

Fr Whyte had spoken out after vandals damaged Catholic graves and daubed graffiti on the parish church in the run-up to a ceremony which he conducted on Sunday, blessing graves at Carnmoney cemetery on the outskirts of Belfast.

"Recently I have had to speak out on certain issues," he said.

"The damage at the graves, the daubing at our parish church; for doing that I am threatened with death.

"I am outraged really, deep down. I am just putting a good face on it," he said.

Up to 200 loyalist protesters attempted to disrupt the service at the cemetery.

They shouted, jeered and blew whistles. A short time later a crowd of 40 youths gathered on the O'Neill Road and threw bricks and stones.

Two cars were set alight at O'Neill Road.
Two cars were also hijacked and set alight. A number of other vehicles were damaged by stones and other missiles.

A 16-year-old youth is due to appear in court in connection with the protest.

He faces a charge of riotous behaviour and has been released on police bail.

Protestant clergymen in Newtownabbey united to condemn the loyalist death threat against Father Whyte.

Newtownabbey Clergy Fellowship, which includes Presbyterian, Church of Ireland and Methodist ministers, said they were "shocked and saddened" by vandalism at Carnmoney cemetery and the disruption of a service there.

"Over the years we have enjoyed a warm friendship with Fr Whyte and value his Christian witness and wisdom," they said.

"It is particularly regrettable that one who has clearly identified himself with Protestant congregations in times of threat should now be the subject of personal abuse and intimidation himself."

They called on the Loyalist Action Force to withdraw their threat and urged members of their congregations to show compassion and support towards their Catholic neighbours.

Alliance leader David Ford condemned the threat to Father Whyte and called on those with influence with loyalist paramilitaries to work to have it removed immediately.

"Father Whyte has served the people of this area for many years, active in the local community as well as his pastoral duties," he said.

"All threats are to be condemned, but this one is particularly disgraceful."

He called on all those who claimed influence with loyalists, including elected representatives and members of the Loyalist Commission to take action to have the threat removed.

DUP councillor Nigel Hamilton said he thought the protesters had a right to be heard.

"I don't feel that those who wish to protest are wrong in doing that," he said.

"But there is a way in which the protest can be carried out to enable, not only the service that is taking place to carry on, but also to ensure that the process is carried out with dignity."

Vandalism

Last Monday, headstones on five graves - thought to belong to Catholic families - were damaged at the graveyard.

All five had Celtic crosses which were either broken or knocked down when vandals attacked them.

Fr White described the attack as an "outrage" which would appal "decent" people.

The attack was condemned by the mayor of Newtownabbey, Alderman Paul Girvan, who said the council planned to increase security at the cemetery and had been in contact with the police.

In June 2003, more than 20 memorials in the graveyard were vandalised. Memorial crosses on some graves were smashed and headstones were overturned.

The cemetery is beside Rathcoole estate, a loyalist housing estate where Catholic postman Daniel McColgan, 20, was murdered by members of the loyalist Ulster Defence Association, as he arrived for work in January 2002.

In May 2002, his grave in Carnmoney was damaged in a similar attack.




WATCH AND LISTEN
BBC NI's Julian O'Neill reports:
"The clergy want the death threat lifted so the borough can rest in peace"



SEE ALSO:
Headstones damaged in grave attack
29 Jun 02  |  Northern Ireland
Loyalists blamed for cemetery attack
17 Jun 02  |  Northern Ireland


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