The Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) has said 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.
The grouping issued a statement following the funeral of their “comrade”, David Ward, in Dungiven parish church on Saturday.
Mr Ward’s coffin was brought inside the church while draped in both the Irish tricolour and the starry plough, a symbol associated with the paramilitary group the INLA.
The Catholic Church, who in the 1980s imposed an ongoing ban on the use of flags and any paramilitary trappings at funerals, said the coffin was covered with a “white pall” for the funeral liturgy.
The IRSP, however, said in a statement on Monday night: “The flags of the republic will drape our members coffins when and where we see fit.”
The IRSP said it forced the flags into the church on Saturday. Their statement read: “The Catholic hierarchy refused to engage with the family in its time of need. Facing up to this arrogance, activist Ward’s family and comrades made sure his final wishes were adhered to. His coffin was draped with the flags of the republic within the church.”
The statement added: “Never again will the Irish Republican Socialist Movement be told what to do by a corrupt Catholic institution responsible for so much suffering on this Island.
“The flags of the republic will drape our members coffins when and where we see fit.”
East Londonderry SDLP MLA John Dallat described the statement as “abhorrent”
He said: “The sanctity of the Catholic Church should be respected. The language from the IRSP says it all.
“The language is so abhorrent that there is a temptation to ignore it because it is so out of touch but I do think that the priests and the congregation of Dungiven don’t need that kind of aggro. It is unfortunate that at this man’s passing they didn’t have more grace with the language that they used.”
He continued: “When people are members of the church through choice, they should respect the rules of the church, which were made for very good reasons. It’s unfortunate that at this time that not only has that not been respected, the language that’s been used has been very hurtful to members of the church.”
DUP MP Gregory Campbell said it was up to the Catholic Church to ensure its rules on flags and paramilitary emblems are followed.
“That statement is putting a marker down,” he said. “It would appear that they are putting it up to the Catholic Church, that in their words they have forcibly ensured that one of their members gets a funeral that they decide they want to have, irrespective of the wishes of the church and the institution into which he’s being buried.”
He added: “Whether it is the Catholic Church or any other institution, they shouldn’t allow themselves to be forced into doing something which is contrary to what they stand for.”
Dungiven Parish Priest Fr Seamus Kelly declined to give any comment when the News Letter contacted the parish office yesterday morning.
A spokesperson for the Catholic Church said: “By prior agreement with the family of the deceased, a large white pall (which is a large white cloth symbolising baptism) was placed over to completely cover the coffin. The two flags, which had been placed on it by the family, were completely covered by the pall throughout the funeral liturgy.”