Thousands of people watched the funeral procession take place in west Belfast on Tuesday, of the late Bobby Storey (left), Sinn Féin’s chairperson in the Six Counties and a renowned Provisional IRA figure who died last Sunday week.
The cortege left his home in Andersonstown in west Belfast for the journey to St Agnes’s Church, where Requiem Mass was celebrated by Fr Gary Donegan, formerly of Holy Cross Church in Ardoyne.
Hundreds of republicans formed a socially-distanced guard of honour along the road from the church in Andersonstown to the republican plot at Milltown Cemetery, off the Falls Road. Black flags flew along the funeral route.
The hearse was led by two kilted pipers. and was flanked by men and women in dark suits and ties. In line with coronavirus regulations, about 30 people were allowed to walk behind the hearse.
Among those in attendance were former Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and the North’s Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill.
Following Mass, the guard of honour continued for just over a mile to Milltown Cemetery where there was spontaneous applause as a procession passed.
A crowd gathered at the republican plot in the historic Milltown graveyard where Mr Adams and Sinn Féin Assembly member Gerry Kelly were among those who helped carry the coffin.
Donegal TD Pearse Doherty described Mr Storey as an “inspirational republican leader”, before Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill read the Robert Frost poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ in his memory.
Mr Adams delivered the main oration, during which he credited Mr Storey with building Sinn Féin to the size and influence it has today.
He said that when released from jail for the final time in 1998, Mr Storey was 44 years old and had spent more than 20 years of his life in prison. He said that “a life of struggle is a life well lived”.
Mr Adams accused the 26 County parties of excluding Sinn Féin, comparing the situation to when unionist parties refused to speak to them in the North of Ireland.
“This weekend saw the election of Micheál Martin as Taoiseach as part of the manoeuvre by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, aided and abetted by the Greens, to maintain the status quo and to prevent Mary Lou McDonald from becoming taoiseach,” he told the gathering at the republican plot.
“They are entitled to do that but their refusal to talk to the Sinn Féin leadership is a sad little undemocratic throwback to the way the unionist leaders used to behave.
“Denying Sinn Féin voters their right to be included in talks shows how far the Dublin establishment is prepared to go to minimise and to delay the ongoing process of change across this island, including the movement towards Irish unity.
“So, let me say loud and clear. They will fail. Just as unionists failed in their exclusion policies.”
Mr Adams also hit out at claims Sinn Féin is controlled by “shadowy figures”.
“We are an open democratic national movement with our elected leadership, led by two fine women and other national leaders and countless regional and local leaders,” he said.
“We are proud and glad that Bob and other former IRA Volunteers are part of what we are.
“We are also proud of Bob and the others when they were IRA Volunteers.
“They and their support base and republican Ireland defeated the British Army. They brought us and their political masters to the negotiating table.”
With reference to two portraits that will be hung in the new Taoiseach’s office by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, Mr Adams added: “Leo Varadkar has Michael Collins. Micheál Martin has De Valera. We have Bobby Storey.
“Bobby has done more for Irish freedom, peace and unity on this island than either Leo Varadkar or Micheál Martin.”
But he described Mr Storey’s death as a “huge political blow for republicans”, adding: “There is a void in our lives. He would want us to continue our struggle and to win that struggle.
“And that my friends and comrades is what we will do.”