Bishop appeals to Drogheda gangs to end violence
One of the most senior figures in the Catholic Church here has appealed for those involved in the criminal feud in Drogheda to "desist" from violence.
The Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Armagh, Bishop Michael Router, also condemned the murder last Tuesday of Keith Branigan (29) in Clogherhead, Co Louth.
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It is the first time a senior figure in the Church has commented on the feud and the comments were made in the first public statement by the Auxiliary Bishop since his Episcopal ordination.
The Bishop said: "I want to, on behalf of all of us here and on behalf of the people and priests of the Archdiocese of Armagh, condemn in the strongest possible terms the callous murder last Tuesday of Keith Branigan in the Ashling Holiday Park in Clogherhead, Co Louth, and to offer our condolences to his wife Rachel and to their loved ones.
"Such violence and disregard for life is always appalling but for such an act to take place in a holiday camp where people were enjoying the last days of summer, and near to where children were playing, is truly shocking.
"News reports linked this murder to the ongoing feud between rival gangs in Drogheda and therefore the threat of reprisals is, unfortunately, a real one.
"Such a cycle of violence will only lead to further tragedy and loss of life so I would appeal for those involved to desist and consider the futility of their actions."
"I would ask anyone who has any information on this murder or other acts associated with the feud to bring that information to gardai."
The Bishop was celebrating Mass in St Michael's Church in Carlingford, Co Louth, and made his comments in his homily in what is his first public statement since his Episcopal ordination in July.
He told those gathered: "All of us have an obligation as well to pray that there may be peace and harmony in communities throughout this island and for a renewal of respect for human life which has been so weakened in our society in recent years."
Mr Branigan, who had recently celebrated his first wedding anniversary, is the first person to be murdered in the feud.
The feud, between two criminal gangs, has also seen more than 70 separate incidents including attempted murders, petrol bombings, pipe bombs and assaults, as well as the seizure of a gun and drugs and money.
Mr Branigan was shot dead at close range as he worked installing decking outside a mobile home in the busy Ashling Caravan Park in Clogherhead.
A senior gangland figure, whose associates are the chief suspects in the murder, was quizzed just hours after the gun attack.
A source said the gang leader was not arrested over the killing but questioned about his movements at the time of the murder.
"He had an iron-clad alibi which was supported by CCTV footage. It's made gardai even more suspicious about his role in organising or carrying out the killing," a source said.
"It is standard for the usual suspects to be spoken to straight after a serious incident, which happened in this case.
"This individual made a point of being seen on CCTV for a few hours which indicates he had prior knowledge of what was going to happen."
A number of threats have been made since the murder of Mr Branigan, and gardai are bracing themselves for a backlash, with additional officers attached to the Emergency Response Unit being deployed to Co Louth to prevent further attacks.
The comments by Bishop Router have echoes of the appeal made by Pope John Paul II when he visited Killineer, 4km north of Drogheda, in 1979.
At the time, which was during the Troubles, he said: "Now I wish to speak to all men and women engaged in violence. I appeal to you in language of passionate pleading, on my knees I beg you to turn away from the path of violence and return to the ways of peace."
Speaking to an estimated crowd of 300,000 people, he said: "I too believe in justice and seek justice but violence only delays the day of justice."