Foster to make last-minute decision on attending McGuinness funeral

Arlene Foster with former deputy first minister Martin McGuinness
Arlene Foster with former deputy first minister Martin McGuinness

Arlene Foster by Wednesday evening had not yet stated if she would attend the funeral of her former partner in government at Stormont Martin McGuinness.

The Catholic Church has said assurances have been given there will be “no paramiltary trappings” at the requiem mass in Columba’s Long Tower chapel in Londonderry.

The service will begin at 2pm on Thursday, with Mr McGuinness’s remains making their way from his Bogside home to the church at 1.20pm.

A spokesman for the Catholic Church said that while a flag-draped coffin was to be expected, there would be no other visual reminders of the former IRA commander’s terrorist past.

The funeral could be one of the largest ever held in the city.

When the funeral of Peggy O’Hara, the mother of INLA hunger striker Patsy O’Hara, took place at St Columba’s in July 2015, around 50 masked paramilitaries took part in a show of strength close to the church but not on church property.

There were also several men and woman in paramilitary-style uniforms – including black berets – flanking the hearse at the funeral of Sinn Fein press officer Dale Moore three months ago.

The report of the Moore funeral in republican magazine An Phoblacht said: “A guard of honour made up of scores of former prisoners, Sinn Féin activists and members of Derry’s republican youth organisation lined the street leading to the church.”

However, Fr Michael Canny of St Columba’s said on Wednesday that assurances had been sought by the church and had been given by those organising the funeral.

“I can assure you there are no paramilitary trappings,” he told the News Letter.

Fr Canny, who will lead the funeral service, added: “I am told that if there is a guard of honour it will be MLAs and there are no other trappings that I am aware of. We have asked about that and have been assured.”

Peter Robinson, Mrs Foster’s predecessor as DUP leader and first minister, is expected to be among the mourners.

Opinions have been sharply divided on whether Mrs Foster – whose own family suffered at the hands of IRA terrorists – should attend the service.

Her part-time police officer father John Kelly was shot in the head by the IRA at the family farm near Roslea in 1979 but survived. A few years later she was caught up in a bomb attack on her school bus when the IRA targeted the driver.

Despite Mrs Foster’s own painful memories, high-profile victims’ campaigner Ann Travers believes attendance at the funeral is in keeping with her role as a political leader.

“I think that she should go, she worked with him, she was first minister, she’s a political leader,” Ms Travers said.

“I would hope that people will understand and will support her professionalism as a political leader to go [to the funeral].

“I know that people say it’s up to her but I really think she must go.”

When it was suggested there would be more people behind the decision than just Arlene Foster, she said: “As a party (the DUP) need to be thinking both professionally and in a human sense.”

Ms Travers – whose sister Mary was shot dead by the IRA in a gun attack that also seriously wounded her magistrate father in south Belfast – told the BBC’s Talkback programme: “As an IRA victim I don’t need to go to Martin McGuinness’s funeral. His family would not want me there.”