Concerns have been raised about paramilitary trappings at a republican funeral attended by schoolgirls and a GAA guard of honour.
Hundreds turned out yesterday for the funeral of prominent republican Declan McGlinchey – son of murdered INLA leader Dominic McGlinchey – in St Mary’s Church, Bellaghy, Co Londonderry.
His funeral procession began from his home with a balaclava-clad guard of honour and later involved dozens of others in paramilitary-style uniforms with black berets.
A republican flag and black leather gloves were carried on the coffin but were removed in the church.
Images were published yesterday of masked men firing a volley of shots in his honour in south Londonderry the night before the funeral.
Mr McGlinchey, 39, died suddenly of a suspected heart attack and is survived by his wife Brenda, seven children and brother Dominic.
A member of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, he had been arrested with his brother Dominic about the murders of Sappers Mark Quinsey and Patrick Azimkar at Massereene Barracks in 2009. They were both released without charge.
His uncle Sean McGlinchey said in recent days that his nephew had moved on with his life and wanted to contribute to the peace process.
TUV Councillor Stephen Cooper said last night: “The recent report into paramilitary activity stated that the INLA not only remains in existence but is attempting to recruit new members.
“The report also made it clear that, like the IRA, the INLA continues to have access to weapons and is heavily involved in criminality including extortion, drug dealing and fraud.
“It is therefore outrageous that such a show of strength was permitted to take place today.
“It is deeply disturbing that schoolgirls were so close to this paramilitary display and we need to get clarity from the school as to whether they knew a display of this nature was planned. Did they give permission for the pupils to attend in uniform?
“Furthermore, given the prominence of people wearing GAA tops, the funeral again raises questions about the connections between that organisation and armed republican terrorists.
“What sort of ‘shared future’ is being created in Northern Ireland when sports clubs and schoolgirls are seen side by side with men in paramilitary dress?
“There will be many members of the public wondering why another uniformed organisation – the PSNI – appears to have been absent from what amounted to a paramilitary show of strength in broad daylight. This is a matter my party will be raising with the PSNI.”
DUP Policing Board member Jonathan Craig said: “I tried to contact the police in advance of this funeral to ensure that there was a presence to gather evidence for prosecutions if there was a paramilitary display. I will be pressing the police to see what action they will take if the images are accurate.
“All paramilitaries need put out of business and the police have a key role in this. There should be no paramilitary displays of any nature. They should all leave the stage.”
The PSNI responded that they were aware of the funeral.
“Following consultation with local representatives and, taking into consideration the feelings of the family at this time, a proportionate policing operation was deployed in the area,” a PSNI spokesman said.
“Police have not received any complaints or are aware of any incidents during the funeral, however if any criminal offences are detected, these will be pursued by police.”
A statement released in the name of the “O/C of Continuity IRA POWs” at Maghaberry prison said they were “deeply saddened by the news that our comrade Declan McGlinchey had passed”.
It added: “Declan was a proud republican, steeped in a tradition lived by his mother and father. We send our deepest condolences to his family and especially his wife Brenda and their children.”
St Mary’s College, Clady and the GAA both defended the attendance of their pupils and players at the funeral.
A line of young girls in uniforms from St Mary’s College were pictured outside the chapel as the coffin entered. On its departure the paramilitary trappings had been removed.
A spokeswoman for the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools said: “The pupils of St Mary’s College, Clady attended the funeral in keeping with the school’s practice of sending pupils and other representatives of the school to the funeral of a parent who has children attending the school.
“Mr McGlinchey has had four children attending the school – two of whom are currently enrolled.
“This is to provide support and comfort to Mr McGlinchey’s children.”
Youths wearing Wolfe Tones GAA tops walked in procession at the funeral and provided a guard of honour outside the chapel for the coffin. A spokesman for Ulster GAA said: “It is the understanding of Ulster GAA that Declan McGlinchey was a member of Bellaghy Wolfe Tones GAA and therefore the presence of club members at his funeral was in the context of his active membership of his local club and his membership of the association.
“The GAA have a strong non-party political rule that applies to all units of the association.”