Sunday 19 January 2020

A State funeral will convey a sense of 
national mourning

Comment

A book of condolence in memory of former taoiseach Albert Reynolds opens at his old Fianna Fail party headquarters in Dublin
A book of condolence in memory of former taoiseach Albert Reynolds opens at his old Fianna Fail party headquarters in Dublin

Eoghan O Neachtain

Given Albert Reynolds's key role as an architect of peace on the island of Ireland, it is both appropriate and not surprising that the Government has extended the offer of a state funeral to his family.

In Ireland, a State funeral is reserved for three distinct classes - a President or Former Presidents; a Taoiseach or Former Taoisigh; and any other personage to whom the Government decides to accord such a funeral. Essentially, a state funeral is a means for the State to honour the life of either a person of national significance or someone who has done the State a vital service. It is a public event involving the observation of protocol and military traditions and its purpose is to convey a sense of national mourning.

Since national independence, the honour of a state funeral is one that is sparingly accorded. Albert Reynolds' state funeral will take place almost 92 years to the date of the first state funerals, which happened in quick and tragic succession. Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins were buried within a fortnight of each other in August 1922. Their deaths occurred in the midst of a Civil War and the Irish Free State Army was prominent at the funeral obsequies. Many of the military protocols that surround state funerals date from this time.

The funeral will include the provision of a coffin draped with the national flag; a bearer party of normally 10 military police non-commissioned officers, who carry the remains and remove the national flag at the graveside; pall bearers consisting of 10 army officers; a gun carriage to carry the remains; and a cavalry escort, which normally only applies when the distance from the church to the graveyard is too great to march.

In the case of a former Taoiseach, provision is made for a firing party, consisting of one officer, one sergeant, one corporal and 12 privates, which will fire three volleys. A former Taoiseach is also entitled to one company, made up of 100 troops, who act as a marching body and also line the route at the graveyard.

It is important to note that while all these elements are available,their use or otherwise is at the discretion of the family. In 1999, Jack Lynch's widow gave clear instructions that she did not want a gun-carriage or a volley of shots over the graveside. The matter of an oration and who may give it is one entirely for the family.

A state funeral has been accorded to the families of all deceased Taoisigh and Presidents, though John A. Costello's family declined the offer following his death in 1976, indicating their belief that the late Taoiseach was a private man, who had performed a public duty when called to do so.

State funerals are not solely the preserve of political leaders. In 1968, Sir Alfred Chester Beatty, a prominent art collector and philanthropist, was one of the few private citizens to be given the honour of a state funeral.

During my own tenure as Government Press Secretary, I was involved in the 
arrangement of two State funerals, 
arising from the passing of Patrick Hillery in April 2008 and Garret 
Fitzgerald in May 2011.

This involves significant logistical planning across government departments with the Department of the Taoiseach co-ordinating press and official protocol; the Department of Justice helping to co-ordinate Garda security and traffic management; the Department of Defence co-ordinating the ceremonial military involvement; and the Office of Public Works supplying essential structures such as barriers, large screens, lighting and sound systems.

Ait i measc laochra Gael go raibh acu ar fad.

Eoghan O Neachtain is a former 
Government Press Secretary.

Irish Independent

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