Northern Ireland unites on day of mourning for Ronan Kerr
David McKittrick witnesses politicians bridge the divide as the policeman killed by Omagh car bomb is laid to rest
A profoundly sombre silence brooded over the Co Tyrone village of Beragh yesterday as it laid to rest Ronan Kerr, the young Catholic police recruit killed at the weekend by a dissident republican bomb.
But alongside the grieving at the terrible finality of his death, there were also unprecedented scenes on the little streets which confirmed that something new and hopeful is coming into being. It is too early to say how much of a defining moment this is, but the anger at his death is so deep that yesterday it brought together elements which were always regarded as poles apart.
Police colleagues carried his coffin down the main street and, at the Catholic church, provided a guard of honour for him. So too did colleagues from the quintessentially Irish Gaelic Athletic Association.
The constable was an enthusiastic member of both, providing a bridge between Gaelic culture and a security force that have traditionally been separate and sometimes antagonistic. He was comfortable in combining his Catholic identify with a police ethos; which was why dissident republicans killed him.
Yesterday, the GAA and the police together provided striking evidence of their strong common rejection of the bombers. Police carried the coffin down most of Beragh main street, then handed it over to members of the GAA. This, together with the double guard of honour, emphasised that the surge of anger against the bombers was strong enough to cast aside years of keeping their distance.
So did the fact that among those at the service was Northern Ireland's most senior unionist, the First Minister Peter Robinson, who had never before attended a Catholic mass. That, too, conveyed how the terrorists' hopes of wrecking the peace process by deepening divisions has instead produced a new level of political and communal unity. Not a single public figure has shown the slightest equivocation in their condemnation.
This must provide some solace for his widowed mother, Nuala, who said that she hoped her son's death would not be in vain. He has been hailed as a hero but yesterday it was his mother who looked a quiet, dignified heroine, walking behind the coffin and watching as it was passed from one tradition to another.
Inside the church Mr Robinson and other political and church leaders heard Cardinal Sean Brady welcome the presence of so many politicians and declare that their "united and decisive response" had given great inspiration and hope.
Father John Skinnader, a relative of the dead policeman, said the officer had loved his career. He added: "Ronan and most of his generation are proud of their culture and their faith tradition, but for them it is a faith and a tradition without walls, that is inclusive not exclusive, that unites rather than divides."
Also present was Enda Kenny, the first Taoiseach to attend a police funeral in Northern Ireland, and the heads of the three main Protestant churches. Mr Kenny said: "To those who think they are doing something for Ireland, this is a warped mentality. It is the mentality of the past, a very dark and violent past and it has no part in the future."
Arms cache suspect held
Police investigating the murder of PC Kerr arrested a man in Scotland yesterday over an arms find which they described as "the most significant in recent years".
The suspect was brought back to Northern Ireland under heavy escort from Renton, West Dunbartonshire. Police said the discovery would "form lines of inquiry into Ronan's murder and into dissident activity generally".
The arms and explosives found in the Coalisland area of east Tyrone will be examined for links to the attack that killed PC Kerr. The haul included four Kalashnikov rifles, detonators, component parts for rocket-launchers, incendiary bombs and explosives, possibly Semtex. It is one of the largest discovered in recent years.
A police spokesman said: "Everyone in Northern Ireland is very much safer today because these munitions have been taken out of circulation."