Northern Ireland shows unity at policeman's funeral

6th April 2011, Comments 0 comments

The funeral of a Northern Ireland policeman killed by a bomb planted by suspected dissidents took place on Wednesday with a remarkable show of cross-community unity.

The First Minister of the British-controlled province, the Protestant Peter Robinson, broke with decades of tradition to attend his first ever Catholic mass as Constable Ronan Kerr was laid to rest.

His funeral generated scenes that would have been unimaginable during the Troubles, the 30 years of bombings and murders in Northern Ireland which were largely brought to an end by a 1998 peace agreement.

Robinson is the first leader of his Democratic Unionist Party ever to attend a Catholic mass, while the presence of his deputy Martin McGuinness, of Sinn Fein, a party with close links to the Irish republican movement, was also a clear break with the past.

The policeman's coffin, topped with his uniform cap, was carried to the church by colleagues from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) through an honour guard formed by members of the officer's boyhood gaelic football club.

His home village of Beragh fell silent as the funeral cortege passed, and a demonstration to show the widespread anger at the murder was to take place in Belfast later.

Police believe 25-year-old Kerr, killed by a car bomb as he left home in Omagh on Saturday, was targeted by Catholic dissident extremists who oppose the peace process because he was a Catholic.

He was the first policeman murdered in Northern Ireland since 2009, when an officer was shot dead by dissident republicans.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who also attended the funeral, described the killing as an "act of cowardice".

No group has claimed responsibility for the murder, but Kerr's murder is further proof that small numbers of dissidents who want to see Northern Ireland unite with the south remain bitterly opposed to the peace process.

Kerr was one of a growing number of Catholics in the PSNI, which in its previous guise of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) was overwhelmingly Protestant until it was reformed in 2001.

© 2011 AFP

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