Saturday 29 April 2017

Community united in grief

The coffin of PSNI Constable Ronan Kerr is carried through his home town of Beragh in Co Tyrone, to the Church of the Immaculate Conception by members of the Red Knights GAA club. Photo: PA
Members of the PSNI shoulder the Coffin of PC Ronan Kerr. Photo: PA

Police officers and senior officials from the GAA shouldered the coffin of murdered Catholic constable Ronan Kerr at his funeral today in an unprecedented show of unity.

President of the Gaelic Athletic Association Christy Cooney and Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) members carried the remains to the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Beragh, Co Tyrone.

PC Kerr, 25, was killed when a booby trap device exploded under his Ford Mondeo at his Omagh home, near Beragh, as he got in to go to work on Saturday.

His killing, blamed on dissident republicans opposed to the peace process, has sparked unanimous cross-community condemnation.

The funeral procession was accompanied by unifying images that would have been unimaginable during the Troubles.

First Minister Peter Robinson is the first Democratic Unionist Party leader to attend a Catholic Mass while the presence of Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at the funeral of a police officer also represents a striking break with the past.

The small Tyrone village ground to a halt as local schoolchildren and members of the officer's boyhood gaelic football club flanked the cortege led by his mother Nuala, who days ago appealed that his loss not be in vain.

A police hat and gloves were carried on top of the coffin.

Family relative Fr John Skinnader told mourners he saw the enthusiastic new recruit sitting behind the wheel of a police car last weekend.

"I thought to myself: there is the symbol of the new Northern Ireland, a young man living out his childhood dream to be of service to others, to help protect, make life safer for others, to be a peace-builder in communities and between communities," he said.

Pc Kerr was a Manchester United fan, the priest said.

"We can become very caught up and delusional about what we are fighting over.

"I know there are much more serious things to fight over than football. There are issues, causes that touch us at the very centre of our being, that touch us at the heart of who we are as a person or a nation, but no one has the right to destroy the life of another human being in order to enhance their own sense of freedom or identity."

He added that it was a tragedy that the policeman had gone too soon.

He played for the youth teams of Beragh Red Knights GAA until the age of 18.

The priest said: "Ronan and most of his generation are proud of their culture and their faith tradition, but for them it is a faith and a tradition without walls, that is inclusive not exclusive, that unites rather than divides."

Members of Beragh Red Knights lined up side by side with police officers and schoolchildren, forming a guard of honour outside the church.

Tyrone GAA manager Mickey Harte, whose daughter Michaela was recently murdered on honeymoon, and other senior GAA officials carried the coffin while police officers took it a final stretch to the churchyard, before members of the family shouldered the burden.

Colleagues from Enniskillen, where he was based, and fellow trainees helped carry the coffin and stood in the guard of honour.

PSNI chief constable Matt Baggott and Garda commissioner Martin Callinan attended, along with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams. Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson and Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott were also present.

Cardinal Sean Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, presided over the Mass. Also present were Archbishop Alan Harper, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh; the Rev Norman Hamilton, moderator of the Presbyterian Church; and the Rev Paul Kingston, president of the Methodist Church.

Loyalist paramiltary leader Jackie McDonald, a strong supporter of the peace process, was among mourners.

Cardinal Brady said: "Parents and grandparents, I beg you, plead with your children and with your grandchildren not to get involved with violence ... Violence has nothing, absolutely nothing, to offer except misery and destruction.

"Choose life, I say, choose goodness, choose peace. That is what God is asking of you. That is what the people of all traditions have been saying to all of us, loud and clear, since the moment of Ronan's tragic death on Saturday last ... In God's name stop - and stop now!"

The Irish flag at Government Buildings in Dublin flew at half-mast.

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