Heavy security for funeral of suspected Omagh bomber

Seamus McKenna died from head injuries sustained in fall from roof

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan who has said no paramilitary trappings will be permitted at funerals. Dara Mac Dónaill /The Irish Times

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan who has said no paramilitary trappings will be permitted at funerals. Dara Mac Dónaill /The Irish Times

Wed, Jul 17, 2013, 22:38

Gardaí have undertaken one of the biggest policing operations at a dissident republican event in recent years at the funeral of suspected Omagh bomber Séaamus McKenna earlier today.

Gardaí at the funeral in Ravensdale near Dundalk, Co Louth, perhaps outnumbered mourners, estimated at between 250 and 300 people.

Among them were the well known republicans Seamus Daly and Colm Murphy, both of whom were found liable for the Omagh bomb in a civil action.

Senior gardaí were keen to avoid a repeat of the scenes at the funeral in Donaghmede, north Dublin, last September of key Real IRA figure Alan Ryan.

Shots were fired and a masked colour guard dressed in paramilitary attire accompanied the coffin from the church as gardaí stood back and looked on.

This morning checkpoints were set up on the approach roads to Ravensdale, searching vehicles and those on foot and recording peoples’ names.

Garda vans carrying teams of gardaí dressed in full riot gear sat throughout the ceremony within 50 metres of the entrance of St Mary’s Church during the service.

And dozens of armed detectives and uniformed gardaí stood in groups outside the church, with armed gardaí far outnumbering their uniformed unarmed colleagues.

When a group of around 40 mourners took up position outside the church in two lines - all dressed in black trousers, which shirts and black ties - armed members of the Special Detective Unit stood shoulder to shoulder with them.

Those forming the escort wore white shirts with logos of the groups Cogús and the Republican Network for Unity.

Cogús is a support group for republican prisoners in Maghaberry Prison in Lisburn.

The Republican Network for Unity is a political group linked to it and is against the peace process.

As McKenna’s coffin – which was not draped in a tricolour – was carried for burial to the cemetery adjoining St Mary’s Church, it was led by a hearse, with a Garda car in driving in front.

The vans carrying the gardaí in full riot gear followed the cortege. Gardaí dressed in riot gear on horseback also followed. The animals were kitted out in riot gear, consisting of small visors over their faces and reinforced shin guards.

When the funeral party arrived at the cemetery there were a large number of gardaí dressed in riot gear stationed around the walls of the cemetery.

Around 10 uniformed unarmed gardaí were waiting at the graveside when the mourners arrived and stayed there through the service, obviously keen not to allow any colour guard move in for a public show of strength or to fire shots over the grave.

While gardaí had intelligence that suggested dissident republicans would attempt a show of strength like that seen at Alan Ryan’s funeral last September, Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan said on Monday the Garda would not allow that to happen at today’s funeral.

There were no reports of any trouble this morning in Silverbridge, south Armagh, where McKenna’s remains had reposed overnight in his son’s house.

Garda sources said the fact McKenna did not die violently, unlike Ryan who was shot dead, perhaps meant his funeral was lower key .

McKenna died in Beaumont Hospital, Dublin, on Sunday after suffering head injuries last Wednesday while repairing the roof of a school in Kilcurry near Dundalk, Co Louth.

The former IRA prisoner was acquitted in a civil action taken by relatives of the Omagh bomb victims but had been linked to the bombing by mobile phone evidence. The bombing, in Co Tyrone in 1998, was carried out by the Real IRA and killed 29 people including a woman pregnant with twins.