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Fran Mulhern: 'As sad as his death was, it was also probably inevitable'

Fran Mulhern

My brother died last week and, if that wasn't hard enough for our family to deal with, the sight of the Continuity IRA turning his funeral into a political statement made it worse.

We often seek to romanticise the dead, to make them into something they weren't, and as writers that's something we try to avoid.

With that in mind, let's get the bad stuff out of the way first.

Liam could be violent, in and out of prison for most of his adult life, he had a big problem with his temper. In his head he was - like all republicans, in this writer's opinion - some kind of a romantic Irish warrior, fighting for an Ireland that has never existed in reality.

At the same time, though, Liam was the product of a very tough upbringing and yet also had the capacity for immense kindness.

He lost his mother just after his first birthday.

In fact, as I write 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 abuse for the rest of their lives.

And all of that is very sad, and no more than countless thousands of children in this country experience on a daily basis.

Some manage to turn out all right, some slip through the cracks and continue the cycle with their own families.

Liam was, sadly, one of those people who slipped through the cracks.

Life is half-chance and chance is a fine thing, but only if you're lucky, and Liam wasn't.

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

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

We lost touch for most of the last few years of his life, but the few times we did talk - including just a few weeks before the last offence for which he was jailed - he came across as a young man whose ingrained beliefs made him very bitter.

"The Brits", he'd say, or "the Orangemen". Or this, or that.

He was talking to me about wanting to become a counsellor to help young people stay away from the paramilitaries, and then a week or two later he was arrested for robbery.

That, sadly, was Liam.

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.

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.

Republican splinter groups have very little actual support in the province.

Let's hope it stays that way.

Belfast Telegraph