The family of Derry IRA veteran Eamon ‘Peggy’ McCourt have denounced politicians who criticised his republican funeral and made insensitive allegations that it had broken Covid-19 restrictions.
His son, Eamon McCourt, accused unionists and anti-republican nationalists of “jumping on the grave”. His father died with suspected Covid-19 last weekend and was buried on Monday.
A former PoW and a member of the IRA’s Derry Brigade, ‘Peggy’ was injured in the SAS ambush in Derry in 1981 in which IRA heroes, George McBrearty and Charles Pop Maguire, were killed.
He passed away on Saturday after a battle with Covid-19. Tributes were issued by a large number of republican groups, including Sinn Fein.
On Tuesday, a mask-wearing guard of honour flanked his tricolour-draped coffin in a socially distanced manner, and the mourners within St Mary’s Church for Mr McCourt’s Requiem Mass adhered to Covid rules.
Following the funeral, Mr McCourt’s son thanked all those who took part. He said: “The guard of honour led with family including the son and grandson of George McBrearty was a privilege to our family and to my daddy no doubt. Thank everyone of you.
“To my da’s second family, his comrades, the republican movement, we can’t thank you enough for giving him the respect and the best republican funeral we could give in these awful times.”
However, unionists latched onto foreshortened images of those who had come out to pay their respects as evidence of republican rule-breaking. They compared the scene to the funeral of Belfast IRA leader Bobby Storey last June, which was investigated by the PSNI.
Over the past six months, loyalists have been consumed by levels of Covid-19 compliance at republican funerals, while ignoring other large funerals, including those of unionist figures. Earlier this month, the DUP’s Christopher Salford condemned the numbers who turned out for the funeral of a 26 County soldier, mistakenly believing it was a republican one.
Sinn Féin said it played no part in organising the ceremony for Mr McCourt, although assembly member Gerry Kelly confirmed that some members attended at the roadside. Assembly member Raymond McCartney, who said he was present, praised Mr McCourt as “a remarkable person, he had that earthliness, a humility that few possess.”
But Fine Gael’s Leo Varadkar seized on the occasion to demand that the tradition of republican funerals be ended. Speaking in the Dail, he asked Pearse Doherty, TD for Donegal, to use his influence to “put a stop to republican funerals.”
He added: “I know the deputy does not organise them but the attendees are his party’s people, members and supporters. He and deputy McDonald have to tell people to stop these funerals. They are a bad idea.”
Mr McCourt’s son hit out at those who had criticised the funeral and appealed for his family to be left alone to grieve his father’s death.
In a Facebook post, he said “jumping on the grave” by unionists was “disgusting”, and the joining in by nationalist politicians was “pathetic”.
“The McCourt family buried Peggy supported by the Creggan community. Sinn Féin republicans were there, non-Sinn Féin republicans were there. So too was SDLP supporters.”
He said a number of funerals of similar size had taken place in Creggan recently, reflecting the community spirit in the area.
“The McCourts are not a clique. This community not a clique. Attacking the family is disgusting by a clique of anti-republicans.”