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Unionist anger over INLA show of strength, but security expert says police were right not to intervene

By Liam Clarke and Eamonn MacDermott

Published 22/07/2015

Scenes from the funeral of Peggy O’Hara in Derry on Saturday with up to 100 masked paramilitaries on show
Scenes from the funeral of Peggy O’Hara in Derry on Saturday with up to 100 masked paramilitaries on show
Scenes from the funeral of Peggy O’Hara in Derry on Saturday with up to 100 masked paramilitaries on show
Scenes from the funeral of Peggy O’Hara in Derry on Saturday with up to 100 masked paramilitaries on show
Peggy O’Hara’s granddaughter Edel Kelly holds her picture

A DUP MLA has said there is "deep anger" within the unionist community at the paramilitary presence during Saturday's INLA funeral of Peggy O'Hara.

But a senior security expert accused the DUP of "utter stupidity" for suggesting police should have broken up the funeral.

Controversy has raged since the appearance of masked and uniformed men and women at the event in Londonderry.

Following a meeting with police, Gary Middleton said: "I got the impression yesterday after our meeting with the PSNI that there was a resource issue around this funeral, but the resource issue is that the police did not deploy what resources they had.

"There is a deep anger within the unionist community at the fact there was virtually no police presence as these masked republicans marched through the streets.

"I have seen a photograph showing one police Land Rover, but that is far from an adequate response to this situation."

"Contrary to some reports, I did not call for the funeral to be stopped. I know there were people there to pay their respects to someone who had died.

"I am not advocating stopping funerals, but once masked individuals appeared the police should have taken action there and then and stepped in to prevent that happening.

"The police have argued that they had to be careful and if they had moved in there it could have led to further disruption. This is all well and good, but at the end of the day when masked individuals appear the police should prevent that immediately."

Former PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Alan McQuillan, who now works as a security consultant, said: "Throughout my career I did republican funerals at different ranks. The bottom line is that the objective of the police in these situations is to maintain the peace and gather intelligence. You know that if you intervene in a heavy-handed manner in the middle of it, it is going to result in a riot."

Mr McQuillan said history was against the view that paramilitary funerals should be stopped.

"In the RUC we went through a phase where there was very strong pressure from unionist politicians to stop funerals, break them up, do all sorts of things. That produced nightmare scenarios - we ended up precipitating disorder to satisfy the political objectives of other people," he said.

"It put us in an absolutely ridiculous situation. I think the PSNI did absolutely the right thing.

"In the RUC our policy changed. We didn't intervene, we stood back and we gathered evidence where we were allowed to do so; we tried to track where the guns were going to and we tried to arrest people afterwards.

"That was the best way to do it and if that is what the PSNI are doing, they are doing absolutely the right thing.

"Some on the unionist side continuously tried to push us into beating Catholics. It was pure, naked sectarian politics. You end up precipitating disorder and pushing people towards the paramilitaries. It is a stupid way to police a funeral.

"In my experience anything up to a quarter of people attending some funerals were reporting back to us and the rest talked to them freely. It was a golden opportunity to gather intelligence."

A DUP source denied that the party wanted people beaten at the funeral. "We are calling for intelligence gathering and arrests afterwards," they said.


Around 50 masked and uniformed men and women marched in formation at the funeral of Peggy O'Hara in Derry on Saturday.

Shots had been fired over her coffin earlier. Mrs O'Hara was the mother of INLA member Patsy O'Hara, who died on hunger strike in the Maze Prison in 1981.

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