‘Dissident funeral arrests not influenced by political pressure’: PSNI

Superintendent Mark McEwan speaks  to media at Strand Road police station following arrests at the funeral of Michael Barr in Strabane .
Pic Pacemaker
Superintendent Mark McEwan speaks to media at Strand Road police station following arrests at the funeral of Michael Barr in Strabane . Pic Pacemaker

A total of 15 men are being questioned at a Belfast police station following an arrest operation at a dissident republican funeral in Strabane.

It is understood that at least six of those arrested come from Londonderry, whilst others come from Dublin and Co Tyrone.

At a press conference in the city on Thursday, local police commander Superintendent Mark McEwan said the PSNI’s actions were not the result of “political pressure”.

Police moved to apprehend the men who are understood to have been clothed in paramilitary style uniform at the time of the arrests after the burial of Michael Barr who was gunned down in Dublin on April 25.

The deceased was killed in the Sunset House pub where he worked. His death has been heavily linked to an ongoing gangland feud in the city.

The dead man was a former republican prisoner who served a sentence in Portlaoise Prison and is described on the facebook page of the Irish Republican Welfare Association as an “IRA Volunteer”.

Supt McEwan said: “A police operation had been put in place set in the context that we have had some public commentary on the fact that the deceased was an alleged member of a violent dissident republican grouping known as the New IRA and that the funeral would take place in a fashion relating to that.

“What we saw this morning on the streets of Strabane and in the local area was what appeared to be to all intents and purposes a paramilitary style display. As a result of that and the subsequent police operation we arrested 15 men in connection with suspected terrorism related offences.”

Asked why the arrests took place after and not before the funeral the leading police officer said: “Every police operation, every situation has to be developed and policed in the context of the wider community impact, and where we suspect criminal offences have taken place we will act. The public expect us to act. The scenes that we have seen today are unique. Sometimes it is more appropriate that we would take an evidence gathering approach and seek to follow that up with arrests and potential prosecutions at a later date.

“But, in the situation that presented itself this morning, it was appropriate, necessary and proportionate we take these steps and so 15 men were arrested.”

Supt McEwan also denied that the police operation had come about after the funeral as a result of public and political pressure surrounding paramilitary displays at funerals.

“Absolutely not,” he said.

“As I say, every police operation is carried out taking in sensitivity to the community and in that regard every situation is different. We don’t respond to political pressure - we are cognizant of it, but more importantly we are cognizant of the wider community impact.

“There is a desire amongst the wider community to see the behaviour we witnessed this morning dealt with. There is an expectation on the police service to take action. We are sensitive to the fact that this was a funeral and there is a family at the centre of this. These are people who are grieving at the loss of a loved one.”

The PSNI commander would not be drawn on the identity of any of the men arrested, whether any weapons had been recovered at the scene nor about the exact nature of the alleged offences for which they had been detained.

Asked how long the men could be detained for he said: “That will develop as the investigation unfolds, so as it is a live investigation I am not going to be drawn any further on it.”