Priest defends funeral comments about dissident republican

The funeral of Tony Catney
The funeral of Tony Catney

A priest has defended comments he made at the funeral of a Belfast dissident republican where masked men fired a volley of shots.

Tony Catney, 55, from Belfast, was buried on Wednesday after dying of cancer.

The high-profile republican, a member of Republican Network for Unity, was jailed in 1974 for the murder of Protestant Maurice Knowles, 17.

He was also arrested after the Real IRA murder of two soldiers at Masserene Barracks in 2009 but released without charge.

DUP North Belfast MLA Nelson McCausland said Fr Aidan Brankin had said Mr Catney had been “unrepentant about his past and about the use of terrorism”.

He added: “Does the priest in question believe Tony Catney was ‘fighting for justice’ when he described the cold-blooded murders of David Black and Constable Ronan Kerr as ‘successful operations’?

Fr Brankin responded today that he had paid tribute to Mr Catney’s “on-going campaign for human rights and his search for justice”.

He added: “I also outlined his commitment in later life towards greater cross-community engagement. Within the context of my homily, and based upon the Gospel passage of the healing of the paralysed man on account of the faith of those who brought him to Jesus, these actions were contrasted with his earlier conviction for murder and imprisonment.

“It was my intention by highlighting and making reference to these activities to identify concrete signs of conversion. I wholeheartedly apologise for any hurt and distress caused by these comments or any omissions.”

The PSNI said they carried out “low key” evidence gathering at the funeral and will pursue any offences they find recorded in CCTV footage.