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Claire Hanna: My colleague wrong over coffin of INLA man

By Liam Clarke

Published 04/08/2015

Questioned: Claire Hanna
Questioned: Claire Hanna

An SDLP Assembly Member has distanced herself from party colleague Colum Eastwood for carrying the coffin at a paramilitary funeral.

Claire Hanna, the SDLP MLA in South Belfast, was speaking after leading opposition to a loyalist parade along the Ormeau Road in her constituency.

That parade honours Joe Bratty and Raymond Elder, two UDA men killed by the IRA in 1994.

Loyalists called the BBC's Nolan Show to put her on the spot by asking how she could condemn the display of UDA flags in the parade and the erection of a plaque to the two dead terrorists, but still support Mr Eastwood.

He had attended the funeral of Seamus 'Chang' Coyle, a veteran of the Official IRA and INLA in Londonderry in April 2012. Mr Eastwood was filmed carrying the coffin, which was draped in a red flag, and walking beside a paramilitary "colour party".

It was made up of masked and uniformed men in black glasses and berets. Earlier there had been a volley of shots and drilling, but Mr Eastwood, a former mayor of Derry, was not present for that, according to Ms Hanna.

"Personally, I would not have put myself in that situation," she said. "He was not acting on behalf of the SDLP, though I believe Colum Eastwood has made clear that he has no truck with paramilitaries or their politics and has worked to persuade others to that position."

Ms Hanna said: "The SDLP have been entirely consistent about violence and those who chose to use it here, and our representatives have strongly advocated this position. People want to see paramilitaries of all shades disappear and stop trying to drag us back to the past.

"I think people would see a distinction between attending the funeral of someone you knew personally, and the year on year political commemoration of a death as a means to celebrate and justify the actions of those involved."

She would not object to people attending Bratty and Elders' funerals if they knew them but "it is a different matter commemorating them each year in a mixed neighbourhood".

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