Belfast Telegraph

'IRA right to fight' says Gerry Adams at Kevin McKenna funeral

Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams

Former Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has said that the IRA were right to stand up and fight against British rule in Northern Ireland.

Mr Adams was speaking as he delivered the graveside oration at the funeral of former IRA chief of staff Kevin McKenna.

McKenna was a leading figure in the IRA from the 1970s to mid 1990s and died in Cavan General Hospital on his 74th birthday on Tuesday following a short illness.

His funeral was held at St Mary's Church near his Co Monaghan home on Thursday.

At the graveside Mr Adams gave a lengthy speech in which he paid tribute to McKenna as a "decent man doing his best in very difficult times".

Men and women dressed in black trousers, white shirts and black ties formed a guard of honour as his coffin entered the church.

McKenna's coffin was draped in a tricolour with a black beret and black leather gloves sitting atop it.

A number of high-profile Sinn Fein politicians were in attendance at the funeral including current president Mary Lou McDonald, deputy leader Michelle O'Neill, MEP Martina Anderson and MP Michelle Gildernew.

Despite veteran republican McKenna being known to be a bitter rival of Martin McGuinness the funeral was also attended by the late deputy First Minister's widow Bernie and son Fiachra.

The Irish Times reported that Mr Adams told those gathered at the graveside that republican people in Northern Ireland "never went to war".

Funeral: Kevin McKenna
Funeral: Kevin McKenna

“The war came to us," he said.

“I’m mindful of those who have been hurt, and there has been hurt on all sides and healing and reconciliation is needed, but the war is over.

“The future is being written now, and as we help to write that future we will not let the past be written in a way which demonises patriots like Kevin McKenna any more than we would the generations before them.

“I think the men and women of 1916 were right. I think the H- Block hunger strikers were right. I think Kevin McKenna was right.

“I think the IRA was right, not in everything that it did, but it was right to fight when faced with the the armed aggression of British rule.”

Mr Adams has always denied being a member of the IRA. His comments were strongly rejected by UUP MLA Doug Beattie.

Writing on Twitter the ex-soldier asked "How was that fight advanced by burning people alive, by strapping them to bombs, by blowing them up as they shopped, by shooting them in church, outside chapel, doing a days work".

"Or by torturing, murdering & disappearing their bodies? What was achieved?"

Mr Adams also praised McKenna's role in the IRA ceasefire of 1994, saying he was "right to make peace".

“Kevin was a republican soldier who had the politics to know when to fight, and the political vision to know when to talk," the former Sinn Fein president said.

“This August marks 25 years from the first IRA cessation, was an initiative created by republicans which opened up the potential for the peace process.

“Kevin had the courage to make the big decisions with others during the conflict, and he was also was one of those who had the courage to make the big and difficult decisions during the effort to make peace."

McKenna climbed the ranks to become one of the IRA's longest serving leaders from the early Eighties to the late Nineties, and was influential in bringing about the first ceasefire in 1994.

Under McKenna's leadership the IRA killed hundreds of civilians in attacks such as the Enniskillen Remembrance Day bombing, at Teebane and Canary Wharf.

He was also at the helm when the IRA imported arms from Libya in the 1980s, and later played a key role in the decommissioning process.

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