'To all in this fray, step back from precipice before life is lost'
In an exclusive statement to the Sunday Independent, Fr Oliver O’Reilly — the Ballyconnell parish priest who denounced the ‘mafia’ style group behind a campaign of violent terror and intimidation — reveals that he is withdrawing from public comment. For now...
'I wish to appeal to people in this region to fully appreciate the wonderful employment opportunities we have in the cross-border area between Ballyconnell and Derrylinn. When the Slieve Russell Hotel is included, we have approximately 2,500 people at work.
"Most of these workers support good families and I experience this goodness on a daily basis. I am confident that there will be room for further job expansion, particularly if there is a soft Brexit.
"We have a large migrant population living and working here, who have integrated seamlessly and enhanced community life with their unique qualities and cultures. It saddens me greatly when I hear of the negativity presently being shown towards migrants and those that support them in so many rural communities.
"I have worked for many years in Nigeria and I experienced nothing but respect and hospitality from its good people. I stand in solidarity with Martin Kenny, TD, and I totally condemn the arson attack on his car.
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"Of course, we have a small criminal element in our region, and they are all home grown and are solely of Irish extraction. I would be confident that the security forces on both sides of the Border will eventually apprehend them and deal with them before the court of law.
"I would especially appeal for old grievances from the past to be left in the past, and that all forms of intimidation and death threats be ended.
"I quote from the recently canonised John Henry Newman in his depth of wisdom: 'to live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often'.
"Social cohesion in our region has been damaged. We all need to change our mindsets and sense of direction.
"We now need to take steps to rebuild trust, as aspects of our community life has been fractured due to the prevailing culture of fear, arising from the numerous acts of intimidation over the years.
"This can only happen if we engage in a new type of dialogue or honest conversation, where disagreements are aired and mutual respect shown. All voices are of equal value in our region, those of Christian faith, other faiths and non-faith. None of us wants to be held ransom to people of extreme views. We need voices of moderation.
"I am not pretending that the game of life is played strictly according to the Queensbury rules. These rules apply to boxing, and in theory are supposed to promote fair play and sportsmanship.
"A friend here in Ballyconnell said to me in recent weeks that my published homily was 'controversial, nasty and harsh.'.
"We both agreed we could do better in our public utterances. I am conscious of Pope Francis's call to demilitarise our hearts and minds, which I also used in my homily.
"An atmosphere of hostility is good for no one. My intention is to step away from this atmosphere for a time, in case I add more fuel to the fire by any public statement. I invite others in this fray to step back from the precipice before life is lost and history made in the wrong way.
"Give peace and harmony a chance."