Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Politicians face no funeral action

Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott will not be chastised by the Orange Order for attending a Catholic police officer's funeral

Two senior Ulster Unionist politicians will not face Orange Order punishment for attending the funeral of a Catholic police officer murdered by dissident republicans.

Party leader Tom Elliott and Stormont regional development minister Danny Kennedy, both long-time Orangemen, were subject to a complaint from an Orange lodge in Belfast for their decision to attend Requiem Mass for Constable Ronan Kerr in April.

According to Orange Order rules, members are forbidden from taking part in religious services that are not of the reformed Protestant faith and the lodge, from Sandy Row in south Belfast, claimed the two UUP men had put political expediency ahead of their principles.

But after the politicians attended disciplinary hearings, the Order's leadership has now decided not to uphold the complaint.

The Sandy Row lodge has the option of appealing against the decision. It is not yet clear whether it will opt to do so.

The controversial rule is often observed being breached, with many rural Orangemen attending funerals of Catholic neighbours.

Constable Kerr, 25, was killed in a booby-trap car bomb outside his home in Omagh, Co Tyrone as he prepared to go to work. The funeral of the gaelic footballer in nearby Beragh saw all sides of the community unite to condemn the murder.

Mr Kennedy, the Newry and Armagh MLA, said: "I welcome this decision and am pleased that the verdict is that the charge is not sustained and I hope everyone can now put this behind them and move on."

Mr Kennedy, who said he remained a "proud Orangeman", said he was sure he and Mr Elliott had done the right thing. "I've no doubt in my mind and indeed the party leader has no doubt that we behaved correctly and properly in attending the funeral of Police Constable Ronan Kerr," he said.

Mr Elliott said he hoped the decision set a "precedent" and would reassure fellow Orangemen who chose to attend Catholic funerals. "I'm pleased it has turned out the way it has," the Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA said.

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