Belfast Telegraph

Dissident republican Michael Barr funeral arrests: We weren't under pressure to make act say PSNI

Fifteen men are held under Terrorism Act after parade by colour party

By Donna Deeney

Police have denied they swooped on a paramilitary colour party at the funeral of murdered dissident republican Michael Barr following criticism of previous operations during paramilitary funerals.

Fifteen men arrested under the Terrorism Act at the funeral in Strabane are being questioned about membership of a proscribed organisation, namely the New IRA.

Michael Barr was murdered in a Dublin pub on April 25 in a shooting thought to be part of a bloody feud between two rival criminal gangs.

A dozen men and women in full paramilitary uniform, berets and sunglasses accompanied the funeral cortege of Mr Barr (36) from his father's home in Clady to St Mary's Church in Strabane for Requiem Mass.

The colour party, none of whom had their faces covered, dispersed through the chapel car park ahead of the funeral service, which was attended by several hundred people.

Police maintained a visible presence throughout the morning including a Land Rover parked near the church which had cameras mounted on the roof recording the arrival of the procession.

An hour after Mr Barr was buried in the graveyard across the road from the church, the police swooped on a number of cars across Strabane town which are understood to have contained the colour party, making the arrests.

District Commander Superintendent Mark McEwan denied the swift action by his officers was in response to criticism of previous police actions during paramilitary displays.

He said: "We have had some public commentary that the deceased was allegedly a member of the violent dissident republican grouping known as the New IRA and that the funeral would take place in line with that.

"What we saw on the streets of Strabane was to all intents and purposes a paramilitary-style display and as a result of that policing operation we have arrested 15 men in connection with suspected terrorist-related offences.

"Where we suspect a criminal offence has taken place, we will move to act. The public would expect us to act.

"Sometimes it is more appropriate that we take an evidence-gathering approach and seek to follow that up with arrests and potential prosecutions at a later date, but with the situation that presented itself this morning, it was appropriate, necessary and proportionate that we would take those steps, so subsequently 15 men were arrested.

"We don't respond to political pressure; we are cognisant of it, but more importantly we are cognisant of the wider community impact and there is a desire amongst the wider community to see the sort of behaviour we witnessed this morning dealt with.

"There is an expectation for us as a police service to take some action but we are sensitive to the fact that this was a funeral, there is a family at the centre of this, so there are people who are grieving."

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