Northern Ireland shows unity at policeman's funeral
The funeral of a Northern Ireland policeman killed by a car bomb planted by suspected dissidents took place on Wednesday with a remarkable show of cross-community unity.
The first minister of the United Kingdom province, the Protestant Peter Robinson, attended his first ever Catholic mass to see Constable Ronan Kerr laid to rest.
The 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 the Democratic Unionist Party ever to attend a Catholic mass, while the presence at a police funeral of his Sinn Fein deputy Martin McGuinness, a former commander in the Irish Republican Army, 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 his boyhood Gaelic football club.
His home village of Beragh fell silent as the funeral cortege passed through.
Cardinal Sean Brady, the head of the Catholic church in Ireland, told mourners: "The people have said 'no, never again', to the evil and futility of violence. They have said an emphatic 'no' to the murder and mayhem of the past.
"Let there be no doubt that the killing of Ronan Kerr was totally unjustified."
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who also attended the funeral, described the murder as an "act of cowardice".
Investigators believe 25-year-old Kerr, who was killed by a booby-trap device on his car as he left his home in nearby Omagh on Saturday, was targeted by republican dissident extremists who oppose the peace process.
Police investigating the murder said Wednesday they had arrested a man in Scotland in connection with a "significant" arms find in Northern Ireland, which included Kalashnikov rifles and explosives.
It was the first murder of a policeman in the province since 2009, when an officer was shot dead by dissident republicans.
No group has claimed responsibility, but the murder is further proof that small numbers of dissidents who want to see Northern Ireland join the Republic of Ireland to the south remain bitterly opposed to the peace process.
The Northern Ireland Assembly dissolved last week ahead of elections to be held on May 5.
It was the first time that the devolved, power-sharing administration -- a keystone in the peace process -- had completed a full four-year term.
The officer was one of a growing number of Catholics to join the PSNI, which in its previous guise of the Royal Ulster Constabulary was overwhelmingly Protestant until it was reformed in 2001.
Omagh was the scene of the deadliest terror attack of the Troubles, when republican dissidents killed 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins, in August 1998.
© 2011 AFP