IRA ignore ban at bomber's funeral

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The Independent Online

Several dozen Sinn Fein and IRA members defied pleas to stay away from the funeral in Gorey, Co Wexford yesterday of Edward O'Brien, the IRA bomber killed in the Aldwych bus blast 10 days ago.

A local priest and friend of the O'Brien family stressed later that this had occurred in spite of specific requests by the dead man's relatives and the Catholic Church that republicans should stay away.

Representatives of Sinn Fein headquarters and IRA members - including Raymond McCartney, the former officer in command of Republican prisoners in the Maze, Brixton escapees Pearse McAuley and Nessan Quinlivan, and the Irish Republic's formerly sole IRA female prisoner, Pamela Kane - were among the Republicans who joined the funeral cortege as it left St. Michael's church and walked to the graveyard in bright sunshine half a mile away.

Sinn Fein members had travelled from Belfast, Derry, Dublin and the Wexford area. The groups of republicans, distinguished by their green ribbons worn in support of IRA prisoners, stood well back at the burial.

Road blocks were set up at five locations to prevent an armed IRA honour guard gaining access to the town. More than 100 armed gardai who had maintained a vigil in the church overnight to stop any paramilitary display, remained in the graveyard after the interring to prevent a volley of shots being fired over the grave, the traditional rite at republican funerals.

At the funeral mass the local priest Father Walter Forde sympathised with the bomber's parents, Myles and Margo O'Brien, who he said had "shown remarkable generosity and courage" in rejecting violence. He said: "The past 10 days have brought us face to face with two images of Ireland. On the one hand we have seen the dark side of a tiny minority who speak for nobody but themselves, hijacked our peace and disfigured our identity.

"These men and women work from a different agenda, an agenda marked by violence, destruction, fear and division."

Fr Forde quoted from some of the 250 letters he and the O'Briens had received in the last week. One, from a London priest, recalled how on the night of the Aldwych blast he had been describing the Docklands bomb damage to a parish audience, and how at least four of the injured "had to have their faces entirely reconstructed by surgeons".

"All these people, North and South, say without equivocation to the men and women of violence, you do not represent us, you have no right to act or speak on our behalf. We do not support you, we abhor what you are doing, we want our peace back," he said.

The service, also attended by local Protestant Church of Ireland and Presbyterian ministers, ended with a prayer for Irish and British politicians engaged in talks.

Piled on top of O'Brien's coffin were cards from family friends and neighbours. To the side of the altar which was decorated with white daisies, carnations and red roses, sat subdued school children, classmates of Edward O'Brien's younger brother Gary, 14, who all wore white peace ribbons.

The congregation of 500 swelled to more than 2,000 as the cortege made its way through the town. Staff from shops in the main street emerged, many wearing white ribbons, to show sympathy for the family.

Fr Forde, who has visited the O'Brien family daily since their son's death was confirmed, said later: "It had been stated by the clergy, by the gardai and by the family themselves beforehand that they [Republicans] would be unwelcome at the funeral."

He added that in the event no paramilitary presence had been visible. "Luckily, nobody really knew they were there, and thankfully it didn't interfere with the service, and I was relieved at that."

There was no comment from the family themselves.