POLICE TRAGEDY: SF members attend funerals

IT was a sign of the changed times that Sinn Fein members attended two of the policemen's funerals yesterday.

The party will also be represented at the final funeral of 39-year-old Declan Greene in Massforth today.

The sight of senior republicans at a burial ceremony for a PSNI member would have been unthinkable less than two years ago.

In the darkest of times, the IRA was responsible for hundreds of deaths of RUC members, which were sickeningly celebrated by some.

Yesterday, however, South Down MLA and Executive Minister Caitriona Ruane attended Requiem Mass for Kevin Gorman, as he was laid to rest in Drumaness.

MLA Alex Maskey attended the service for James Magee, 27, in Dromore Cathedral.

Other Sinn Fein District Policing Partnership members and councillors were also at both.

Party members were, however, asked to stay away from the funeral of Protestant Kenneth Irvine, 30, in Kilkeel.

Republicans mingled with senior officers, such as Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde, as well as constables, who were among the mourners.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness did not attend the funerals.

It was unclear whether his absence was for political reasons, in that such a senior Sinn Fein member at the burial of policemen may have been too high profile and too contentious within republicanism at this stage.

Nevertheless, the presence of senior republicans at the funerals will have been noted at a sensitive time for the whole future of policing and justice in Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein and the SDLP last night condemned yobs who daubed graffiti taunting the four police officers who died in a horror fireball crash at the weekend.

Shocked residents in Lurgan reported the twisted message in Lake Street which mocked the deaths.

Sinn Fein councillor John O'Dowd branded the culprits "ghoulish" and said they did not represent the nationalist community.