Friday, 17 July 2015

20 questions about dissident republican funerals

Masked gunman fires shots over the coffin of Peggy O'Hara at her home
The first stage of the dissident republican funeral of Peggy O'Hara in Londonderry was on Wednesday evening and it was really a paramilitary funeral display of the type once organised by the Provisional IRA.
 
Veteran republican Peggy O'Hara, aged eighty-four, was the mother of hunger striker Patsy O'Hara, who was a member of the INLA.  She was also an active republican and had stood as a candidate in the Foyle constituency in the 2007 Assembly election.
 
Newspaper reports are somewhat contradictory as to the precise sequence of the events but two things are absolutely clear.  Masked men and women in paramilitary uniforms accompanied the coffin through Londonderry and outside the house a masked republican gunman, armed with a rifle, emerged from a group of mourners and fired several shots over the coffin.
 
Photographs of the funeral cortege and the gunman have appeared on the internet and in newspapers and a video clip of the gunfire has appeared on the internet.
 
Independent republican councillor Gary Donnelly was there when the shots were fired and said, 'A number of armed and masked men paid tribute to Peggy by firing shots over her coffin.  They were fired into the air and there was nothing hostile about it.'
 
East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell condemned the show of strength and said, 'The police must investigate the events and of course the funeral is yet to come.  They need to be prepared for what might happen at the funeral.'
 
Gary Middleton, a DUP MLA, also commented and said, 'The PSNI must take action against those who were involved in terrorist activity tonight.  An elected representative was also in attendance during this display of terrorism.  I call on the PSNI to urgently take action and bring those involved in front of the courts.  Londonderry and Strabane council should also take action against the councillor who was full witness to the firing of the shots.'

The final stage of the funeral is to take place on Saturday morning at St Columba's Roman Catholic Church, Long Tower,
 
Shots fired over coffin in Ardoyne
However this is certainly not the first occasion when dissident republicans have staged paramilitary funerals involving gunmen.


There was a paramilitary display at the funeral of Tommy Crossan in West Belfast in April 2014.  Masked men flanked the coffin, which was draped with a tricolour and had a black beret and black gloves on top of the flag.


Funeral of Seamus McLoughlin
There was also a paramilitary display at the funeral of Seamus McLoughlin in Ardoyne in June 2014 and again the coffin was draped in a tricolour with black beret and gloves on top.  Subsequently a photograph appeared on the internet of masked gunmen outside the home of his daughter in Butler Place.  Dee Fennell, a prominent dissident republican and GARC spokesman, also posted some photographs on his Facebook page.

There was a further paramilitary display at the funeral of dissident republican Tony Catney in West Belfast in August 2014.  This funeral led to further controversy when the priest praised Catney for his 'pursuit of justice'. 
 
The PSNI must therefore  know to expect such displays at the funerals of prominent dissident republicans.  So how do they deal with them?
 
Dissident republicans are using such paramilitary displays to assert themselves and on each occasion we have called on the PSNI to take action against the organisers and participants of such displays. So what action have they taken?
 
At the time of the Catney funeral, when eight masked men in military uniforms accompanied the coffin through West Belfast, the PSNI said: 'A low-key policing operation was carried out in the area and an evidence gathering operation was deployed.  All available footage will be examined and where any criminal offences are detected, these will be pursued by police.'
 
However nothing seems to have happened.  So here are some questions for the PSNI?
  1. Was evidence gathered at the paramilitary funeral of Tommy Crossan?
  2. Was anyone arrested and interviewed as a result of this evidence-gathering?
  3. Have any cases been sent to the PPS as a result of this evidence-gathering operation?
  4. Has anyone been charged as a result of this evidence-gathering?
  5. Was evidence gathered at the paramilitary funeral of Seamus McLoughlin?
  6. Was anyone arrested and interviewed as a result of this evidence-gathering?
  7. Have any cases been sent to the PPS as a result of this evidence-gathering operation?
  8. Has anyone been charged as a result of this evidence-gathering?
  9. Was Dee Fennell interviewed about the photographs of the funeral he had posted on his Facebook page?
  10. Was evidence gathered at the paramilitary funeral of Tony Catney?
  11. Was anyone arrested and interviewed as a result of this evidence-gathering?
  12. Have any cases been sent to the PPS as a result of this evidence-gathering operation?
  13. Has anyone been charged as a result of this evidence-gathering?
  14. Does the PSNI believe that such low-key evidence-gathering operations have been effective in delivering prosecutions?
  15. Did the PSNI not know when the first stage of the Peggy O'Hara funeral would take place?
  16. Were the PSNI not aware of the paramilitary funeral as masked men and women marched through the city centre?
  17. What action did they take when they became aware?
  18. Was there an evidence-gathering operation in the city centre?
  19. Was there an evidence-gathering operation during the firing of the shots?
  20. Will the PSNI take resolute action to ensure that there are no further paramilitary displays associated with this funeral?
These are questions that may well be asked at the next meeting of the Policing Board but they are also questions that I and others will want to ask directly to the Chief Constable.

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