The Republican Network for Unity (RNU) have strongly condemned the actions of the 26 County Garda police during the funeral of former republican prisoner, Seamus McKenna, this week.
Mr McKenna was buried on Wednesday morning in Ravensdale following a tragic work accident the previous week.
Republicans from both sides of the border had attended McKenna’s removal from McConville’s Chapel Of Rest in Crossmaglen to his son’s home in Silverbridge.
On Monday, Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan claimed that there was only ‘one force of law and order in Ireland’ and that it would not allow ‘any displays of paramilitarism’.
But although said to have been a member of breakaway IRA group Oglaigh na hEireann, there were no military or paramilitary aspects to the funeral, other than those provided by the Gardai.
During Requiem Mass at St Mary’s Church in Ravensdale, County Louth, it was recalled that his father Sean’s death in his forties was linked to torture he suffered at the hands of British security forces as one of the 14 ‘hooded men’ during the early 1970s.
The funeral was told that Mr McKenna as a lifelong republican whose adult life was spent confronting partition and British rule, and who was an ardent supporter of continued insurgency in Ireland.
But the event came to be dominated by one of the most political displays of policing of a funeral ever seen in Ireland.
The RNU said the the grieving McKenna family had been treated “cruelly” by the imposition of “martial law”.
From early morning, armed Gardai stopped, questioned and searched mourners at checkpoints on all approach roads to the church. Later, riot squads arrived in transit vans while a unit of masked, mounted police and a police helicopter also flew overhead.
Paramilitary-styled officers walked the roads with caps and flak jackets emblazoned with ‘Armed Response Unit’, randomly stopping and searching passing cars.
During the funeral mass, dozens of armed police took up position in the churchyard itself.
Gardai on horseback deliberately stopped to allow their horses to defecate on the road as the coffin was brought to the graveyard, exceeding “even the RUC” in the level of insult, the RNU said.
“Seamus was an ex-Republican prisoner having served several terms inside, and in keeping with the most basic protocol he was given a humble guard of honour made up of other ex-PoWs and their families in matching white shirts and black ties.
“Such would also be the case for a member of the GAA, a local politician or indeed a member of the Gardai.
“At no time was there ever a prospect of a ‘military display’ in Ravensdale, neither protocol nor Seamus’ family would have asked for a such a display.
“Indeed at the request of the family, no national trappings were even displayed on the coffin as it made its way from the Church to Ravensdale graveyard.
“None the less, heavily armed Gardai dressed in paramilitary-style caps and flak jackets insisted on stalking the coffin of Seamus McKenna to his final resting place, lining the roads to Ravensdale graveyard before crowding around the grave itself obscuring the view and greatly obstructing access to the final ceremony from those in attendance.
“The only ‘masked men’ ever due to appear at the funeral of Seamus McKenna were those of the Gardai Riot Squad who despite a cermony which was entirely peaceful, insisted on filming mourners on a County Louth Hillside on the orders of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.
“Their presence was resented by many of the locals, who in a fantastic gesture of passive protest, came out and provided water to the guard of honour who had waited for an hour in the searing heat.”
The RNU concluded by describing the forces sent by Garda Callinan into the quiet parish of Ravensdale as having “all the trappings, mechanics and attitudes of an occupying army”.
“His message was a political one, ‘dissent from the status quo and we will stalk you even in death’,” they said.
“He used the sacred event of a Catholic funeral to deliver his message, and for this he should be truly ashamed.”