A day of tears, defiance and public unity as Ronan Kerr is laid to rest
It will be a day of grief, condemnation and protest. But it will also be a day of unity and defiance.
As Constable Ronan Kerr’s grieving family are joined at his funeral in Omagh by PSNI colleagues and political leaders, the people of Northern Ireland will stand together at a peace rally in Belfast to send a message to the terrorists that they will not win.
Even in Northern Ireland, where society has been hardened to terrorist atrocity, the murder of Constable Kerr has seen an outpouring of grief from all sections of the community and widespread condemnation from leaders across Ireland and the UK.
Books of condolence have been opened across the province.
On its Facebook page the PSNI said: “The organisation has been overwhelmed by messages of sympathy and support.
“Books of condolence are available in Omagh at the Public Services Centre, council offices and police station.
“Books are also available in Cookstown, Dungannon and Enniskillen police stations.”
First Minister Peter Robinson will attend Constable Kerr’s funeral in what will be his first Catholic service. Mr Robinson said that the 25-year-old’s murder has united political opinion and communities and that he wished to attend the funeral “to convey my respect for a brave young policeman”.
“There was a time when acts of violence and terror would have divided political opinion in Northern Ireland — today it unites it. All of you will know what an enormous step forward this is from the experience of the past,” he said.
The DUP leader added: “This is not a time to score political points about the past, but rather to recognise a shared aspiration for a better future.It is trite to say that the terrorists will not win. The truth is they cannot win. If I am sure of one thing it is that the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland utterly condemn the murder of Ronan Kerr.
“Terrorists may be able to destroy a life but they cannot destroy the political process that we have embarked upon and they cannot destroy the resolve of the people to move Northern Ireland forward.”
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness — who has spoken of his great pride in all nationalist and republican members of the PSNI — and Taoiseach Enda Kenny are also expected to attend the funeral at The Church of The Immaculate Conception, Beragh.
Presbyterian Moderator Dr Norman Hamilton will also attend the funeral.
He said: “Constable Kerr is one of our policemen, irrespective of religion. I consider it a totally appropriate response to attend his funeral to pay my respects to his courage and commitment to serving the whole community, to offer my condolences to his family and friends and to stand shoulder to shoulder with all the officers of the PSNI in their work towards building a shared future.”
Chief Constable Matt Baggott, who is also expected to attend the funeral, described Constable Kerr as a “modern-day hero” and said he epitomised everything that is good about the PSNI.
The Catholic and Protestant Bishops of Derry presented a symbolic united front as they met with the family yesterday.
In a joint statement issued after meeting with the grieving relatives, the Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry and Raphoe Rev Ken Good, and Dr Seamus Hegarty, Catholic Bishop of Derry, wrote: “Ronan's mother, brothers and sister have shown immense dignity, courage and generous humanity in the most tragic of circumstances. We make this visit jointly to symbolise what is now reality — that a historic cycle has been broken.”
As Constable Kerr is laid to rest in Drumduff Cemetery thousands are expected to gather in Belfast city centre at to protest against the murder and show their opposition to the terrorist campaign.
The peace rally at Belfast City Hall has been organised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) to give the public a chance to make their voices heard.
Peter Bunting, assistant general secretary of the Ictu, said: “All citizens must stand together to show that we will not be intimidated by violence or threats from armed groups who should now publicly disband.
“This public event being organised by the trade union movement is open to all citizens, the vast majority of whom support the democracy we have achieved in this region. We all depend upon the maintenance of peace, democracy and justice.”
In the Dail last night, Taoiseach Kenny backed an all-party motion highlighting the abhorrence of the murder.
Mr Kenny said: “Let us send out by way of statement and by way of agreed motion a unanimous unequivocal strong and clear message that this kind of cowardice will not be tolerated.”
Mr Kenny said a security briefing with Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan confirmed active and intense cooperation between the gardai and the PSNI.
Constable Kerr who joined the police in May 2010, is the second officer to have been murdered since the Royal Ulster Constabulary became the PSNI in 2001.
Constable Stephen Carroll was shot dead in a gun attack in Craigavon in March 2009.
Following his murder, tens of
thousands of people brought towns and city centres to a standstill in a united rejection of violence.
The leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Archbishop Sean Brady, said Constable Kerr's murder was an attack on all of society and called on young Catholics to join the PSNI.
“We need a police force that represents all of us,” he said.
In an emotional appeal on Sunday, Constable Kerr’s mother Nuala also called on Catholics to continue joining the police force.