The paramilitary display by the INLA in Londonderry on Saturday started after requiem mass for Peggy O’Hara in St Columba’s Roman Catholic Church, Long Tower.
The masked members of the INLA formed up in ranks outside the church and marched with the cortege from the gates of St Columba’s, through the city, to the cemetery.
During a discussion on Monday on Radio Ulster, I referred to the Roman Catholic Church and urged them to speak out on this issue.
It was therefore disappointing to read in the News Letter that the Roman Catholic Church had ‘no concerns’ over the paramilitary display as it didn’t take place on church grounds.
The press office of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Derry said: “It didn’t happen on our grounds so we are not getting involved at all. Just let the politicians and the people on the street deal with it. Everything was very orderly and as expected in the church grounds, and there was nothing unseemly, so we are not getting involved in it at all.”
That is an astounding statement. Is it the position of the Roman Catholic Church that they only comment on events that happen on church property? Surely not! Is it the position of the Roman Catholic Church that they only have concerns about events on church property? Surely not!
On the same day the Roman Catholic Bishop of Dromore John McAreavey condemned the dissident republican bomb in Lurgan and urged anyone with information to bring it to the police.
He said that those who attempted to kill police officers had nothing to offer but “despair and death”. The Lurgan bomb was not on church property and was not even outside church property but the bishop rightly condemned it.
However, in Londonderry the Roman Catholic Church opted not to condemn an illegal paramilitary parade by masked INLA men outside a church building in which requiem mass had just been celebrated. That silence will alarm most people in Ulster – Roman Catholic as well as Protestant.
In other situations and on many occasions, Roman Catholic spokesmen have commented on what has happened on public roads and footpaths outside church buildings, or in the vicinity of church buildings, saying that such actions or events show a lack of respect for the buildings. So why have they opted not to comment on this grotesque display by the INLA? Are they not operating double standards?
The Roman Catholic Church has a moral responsibility to reflect on what their spokesman said and to explain their unwillingness to condemn this illegal display outside a church by masked members of the INLA. Moreover, they have a moral responsibility to condemn an event that could easily encourage young people to be drawn into the ranks of paramilitary organisations such as the INLA.
Referring to the Lurgan bomb, Bishop McAreavey said: “Northern Ireland has witnessed too many dark days in our past to allow our whole community to be dragged backwards.”
That is true, but surely events such as gunfire over a coffin and masked men marching through Londonderry drag society backwards, towards the dark days of the past.
The Roman Catholic Church cannot simply look the other way and ignore what happened on Saturday in the parish of St Columba’s.