Belfast Telegraph

My anger at gun salute over brother's coffin: I'm sickened funeral was hijacked by dissident republicans

By Chris Kilpatrick

A heartbroken brother has told of his disgust after dissident republicans hijacked his sibling's funeral.

Liam Mulhern (30) collapsed at Maghaberry Prison in Co Antrim on Monday of last week and died in hospital days later.

His brother Fran described the firing of shots over the coffin in west Belfast earlier this week as "an absolute disgrace".

Fran Mulhern said Liam, who he revealed was a member of the Continuity IRA, was the second brother he had "lost to Irish terrorism".

Joe Mulhern was just 23 when his body was found near the Tyrone border at Castlederg in 1993. He'd been interrogated by the IRA, accused of passing information to Special Branch, then shot dead.

"I was horrified to find that Liam's funeral was turned into some kind of IRA memorial service," Fran Mulhern told the Belfast Telegraph.

"It sickens me. Northern Ireland deserves better.

"Out of the three boys in my family I'm the only one left.

"To see shots over the coffin - I was disgusted by it."

Mr Mulhern said he last spoke to his brother several years ago.

He was not at his funeral.

"I've been told that the reason Liam joined the Continuity IRA was because he somehow wanted to avenge the death of our brother, killed in 1993 by the Provisional IRA," he said.

"But if we assume that the hardline splinter groups involved the most militant of former IRA members, then it's presumably safe to assume that the kind of people shooting guns over the coffin of Liam would have been the same people who, in 1993, would have been happiest with the death of his brother."

Fran left Northern Ireland two decades ago and studied law in England.

He describes himself as a Catholic unionist - with polar opposite political views from those of his brother.

"As sad as Liam's death was, it was also probably inevitable," Fran said.

"If Liam hadn't died in prison, it's entirely possible he'd have died outside of prison in some terrorist-related activity."

While he acknowledged his brother's violent tendencies, he also said he'd had a difficult life, losing his mother when he was just a year old.

He said: "He lost his mother just after his first birthday. In fact, I'm reminded that today is the 29th anniversary of the death of our mother - Liam Mulhern, 30 years old, lost his mother 29 years ago today.

"He then endured years of instability in a dysfunctional family beset by physical and mental abuse. Liam is the perfect example of how someone from a violently broken home can live with the effects of that that abuse for the rest of their lives."

He said some children managed to make a life for themselves despite that, but his brother was not one of the lucky ones.

"Liam was, sadly, one of those who slipped through the cracks. Life is a half-chance and chance is a fine thing, but only if you're lucky, and Liam wasn't."

Images appeared on social media which showed a gunman firing shots over Liam Mulhern's open coffin - which was draped in an Irish tricolour - as other masked men saluted.

Police confirmed to the Belfast Telegraph they were investigating the images to try and identify those involved.

Alliance MLA and Policing Board member Trevor Lunn said images of gunmen on the streets of Northern Ireland belonged in the past.

"The police must investigate this incident and seek to prosecute those who were involved with this paramilitary display," he said.

"I am disgusted there are still those who would seek to intimidate and create fear in the community."

Liam Mulhern had been serving a prison sentence for armed robbery and is understood to have had health issues.

The PSNI and Prison Ombudsman are investigating his death.

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