Funeral of republican allowed use flags


There are hopes that a church ban on the use of Irish flags to honour republicans will be dropped after a priest fulfilled the dying wish of a lifelong republican and allowed his coffin to be draped in the Irish tricolour and Starry Plough.

Requiem Mass for Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) member David Ward took place last weekend at Dungiven Parish in County Derry. His coffin was carried into the church draped in the tricolour and the Starry Plough, a flag associated with socialist republicans.

Church authorities banned the Irish national flag and republican items on coffins inside churches at the end of the 1980s. Then Bishop of Derry Edward Daly introduced the ban after shots were fired over the coffin of an IRA man inside the grounds of Derry’s Long Tower Church in 1987.

After three decades, the debate around flags at funerals was again sparked in March after the tricolour-draped coffin of former IRA Commander and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was allowed into Long Tower Church during his Requiem Mass.

Hardline unionist MP Gregory Campbell said allowing Irish “trappings” inside churches was “harking back to the violence and murders of the past”.

But IRSP member Willie Gallagher, who was at the funeral, urged the Catholic Church to change their flag policy and “show courtesy to republicans”.

“David was a friend, an IRSP member and a comrade,” he said. “David had made his wishes known, that he wanted the flags on his coffin.

“The family had told the priest that if the church insisted on removing the Starry Plough and tricolour from the coffin in the church, they would refuse to go into the chapel and take him straight for burial. The priest accepted that.”

Mr Gallagher added: “It is an important thing for republicans to have their flags on.

“It was so important to David Ward that he left it in his final wishes and the family wanted to honour his wishes.

“It was a personal touch for the family and we would call on the Catholic Church to allow all republican funerals the courtesy to have the flags left on the coffins during the funeral Mass.

“Times have changed. There are no shots fired over the coffin in the church grounds. All that we are asking for is to have the flags kept on during the Mass. For us, taking a flag off is really a sign of disrespect on behalf of the Catholic Church.”

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