Belfast Telegraph

PSNI and Church let us down over Peggy O'Hara funeral

By Nelson McCausland

The INLA paramilitary funeral and parades in Londonderry, last Wednesday and Saturday, were a reminder of one of the most ruthless terrorist organisations in Ireland.

It was formed in 1974 as the paramilitary wing of the Irish Republican Socialist Party and was always a small organisation, but during the 1981 republican hunger strike, three of the 10 prisoners who died were INLA members. One of them was Patsy O'Hara and it was his mother, Peggy O'Hara, who was buried last week.

Although it was a small organisation, the INLA was responsible for more than 120 deaths and its most bloody attack was that on the Droppin' Well Bar in Ballykelly in 1982.

Eleven soldiers and six civilians were murdered and, subsequently, four INLA members from Londonderry received life sentences for the attack.

The INLA declared a ceasefire in August 1998, but in 2004 the Independent Monitoring Commission reported that the INLA was still heavily involved in criminality. However, on October 11, 2009, Martin McMonagle, a central figure in the recent funeral, announced that "the armed struggle is over".

Since then, little has been heard of the INLA. A number of dissident republican organisations, including the Continuity IRA, Real IRA and Oglaigh na hEireann, have carried out terrorist actions, including murders, but the INLA had almost disappeared until last Wednesday, when masked members of the organisation fired shots over the coffin of Peggy O'Hara and, last Saturday, when masked men and women in paramilitary uniforms formed up outside St Columba's Roman Catholic Church in Londonderry to escort the coffin to the city cemetery.

The events in the city attracted the support of various dissident republicans, including Gary Donnelly, a member of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement and formerly the Real IRA. They saw the funeral as an opportunity to assert themselves as the real republicans, standing in the tradition of the hunger strikers and in opposition to Sinn Fein.

That is why the O'Hara family were so keen to say that they did not want Martin McGuinness at the funeral. Republicanism is deeply fractured and this was highlighted by the paramilitary funeral.

The response of the PSNI was woefully inadequate. If they were going to take the approach of gathering evidence with a view to arresting individuals at a later date, they should have had more than one police camera to gather evidence.

Yes, there was a republican bomb in Lurgan, but the PSNI have plenty of vehicles fitted with cameras and they have three police helicopters. The sad reality is that senior officers got it badly wrong.

As regards Sinn Fein and, in particular, Martin McGuinness, who attended the funeral, his response was also woefully inadequate. In the wake of the gunfire over the coffin on Wednesday night, he and his party said nothing.

It was only on Saturday, after the funeral, that he issued a tweet, which fell very far short of what was required and did not even mention the gunfire.

Finally, the response of the Roman Catholic Church was simply astounding. Although the masked INLA members formed up outside the gates of St Columba's on Saturday, the Church said nothing until approached by a journalist on Monday.

Then, the Press office of the Roman Catholic diocese of Derry said the church had "no concerns" over the paramilitary display, as it didn't take place on Church grounds.

"It didn't happen on our grounds, so we are not getting involved at all. Just let the politicians and the people on the street deal with it. Everything was very orderly and as expected in the Church grounds and there was nothing unseemly, so we are not getting involved in it at all."

Are they suggesting that the Roman Catholic Church never comments on what happens in the street outside the door of a church? Or is this an example of double standards?

It is imperative that the Church clarifies its position.

  • Nelson McCausland MLA is chair of the Assembly's culture, arts and leisure committee

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