Precedent set for flags in church: self-styled cleric

Former US President Bill Clinton speaks during the funeral of Northern Ireland's former deputy first minister and ex-IRA commander Martin McGuinness at St Columba's Church Long Tower, in Londonderry
Former US President Bill Clinton speaks during the funeral of Northern Ireland's former deputy first minister and ex-IRA commander Martin McGuinness at St Columba's Church Long Tower, in Londonderry

The Catholic Church has “opened the floodgates” to the prospect of republican flags and emblems in its places of worship, a former cleric with the church has said.

Pat Buckley, a self-styled “bishop” who is known for his outspoken non-traditional views, was ousted from the church decades ago but continues to minister as what he calls a “free Catholic” in Larne.

"Independent bishop" Pat Buckley

"Independent bishop" Pat Buckley

He was speaking after the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) said on Monday that it will continue to “force” flags into the Catholic Church after the coffin of one of its members was brought inside a church draped in the starry plough flag and the Irish tricolour.

The grouping issued the statement following the funeral of their comrade David Ward in Dungiven parish church on Saturday.

Pat Buckley said that by allowing the late Martin McGuinness’ coffin to be draped in a tricolour inside St Columba’s Church in Londonderry for his high-profile funeral in March, but continuing to enforce a long-standing ban on flags and emblems for other republicans, the Catholic Church were operating a “double-standard”.

The Catholic Church imposed its ongoing ban on the use of flags at funerals in the 1980s.

For Mr Buckley, the “exception” made for Martin McGuinness has “opened the floodgates” for republican funerals in the future.

“If you allow the tricolour on Martin McGuinness’ coffin, then how can you tell some other republican that they can’t have the tricolour?” he asked.

“Unfortunately, it seems to me that very often the Catholic Church has one rule for well known or rich people and another rule for poorer people or less well-known people.”

Following Martin McGuinness’ funeral, the church said it had allowed the flag to be placed over his coffin in the church on the basis of the position he held as a joint head of the government in Northern Ireland.

“This is in recognition, not of an individual, but of a position that they held in public life,” bishop Donal McKeown had said.

Mr Buckley took a different view.

“The problem with that of course is that Martin McGuinness was deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, and the flag of Northern Ireland is not the tricolour,” he said.

“I think they fudged it. It has opened the floodgates.”

He said that while he would prefer there were no political flags of any kind, he believes “the people of a parish or the people of a Diocese should be consulted.”