Bobby Storey did more for Irish freedom than Varadkar or Martin, says Adams
Thousands congregate for former IRA and Sinn Féin member’s funeral in Belfast
Bobby Storey did more for Irish freedom, peace and unity than either Leo Varadkar or Micheál Martin, former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said at the funeral of the leading republican in west Belfast on Tuesday.
Mr Adams said that republicans such as Mr Storey helped defeat the British army.
Thousands of people congregated in west Belfast on Tuesday for the funeral of the 64-year-old former IRA member and later senior Sinn Féin figure who died while undergoing a lung transplant in England last Sunday week.
The cortege left his home at Owenvarragh Park in Andersonstown around 10.30am for the short journey to St Agnes’s Church, where Requiem Mass was celebrated by Fr Gary Donegan, former rector of Holy Cross Church in Ardoyne, north Belfast.
The hearse was led by two kilted pipers. Among the airs they played were The Minstrel Boy, Seán South of Garryowen, A Nation Once Again and On Raglan Road.
A guard of honour of men and women dressed in black trousers, white shirts and black ties lined both sides of Owenvarragh Park as the cortege made its way to the church.
Hundreds of republicans formed a 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 itself was flanked by men and women in dark suits and ties. In an attempt to follow coronavirus regulations, about 30 people were allowed to walk behind the hearse. Many hundreds more lined the footpaths.
Unionist and Alliance politicians however complained that the attendance along the route, in the church and at the republican plot was a clear breach of the social distancing rules.
Among those in attendance were Mr Adams, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and the North’s Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill. Many other Sinn Féin politicians and former IRA members also attended.
In his homily Fr Donegan referred to how Mr Storey had grown up in north Belfast where his family were intimidated from their home. He also described Mr Storey as “devoted” to his partner Teresa and to their children and grandchildren.
Police maintained a discreet presence in west Belfast during the funeral although they did conduct a security check of the area around St Agnes’s Church ahead of the service.
Mr Storey was one of the most senior figures in the IRA during the Troubles. He joined the IRA when he was 16 and at 17 was one of the youngest people to be interned in 1973. In all, he served about 20 years in prison. He was central to the escape from the Maze prison in 1983, the biggest jailbreak in UK history.
Several security sources said he also was behind the 2004 £26.5 million Northern Bank robbery and that he planned the St Patrick’s night break-in at the PSNI special branch’s office at Castlereagh in east Belfast in 2002.
At the republican plot at Milltown Cemetery, Mr Adams recalled how Mr Storey when alluding to his more than 20 years in prison said that “a life of struggle is a life well lived”.
“We are proud and glad that Bob and other former IRA volunteers are part of what we are,” said Mr Adams. “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,” he said.
“Leo Varadkar has Michael Collins. Micheál Martin has [Éamon] 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,” added Mr Adams.
After the oration Mr Storey’s coffin was brought to Roselawn cemetery in the east of the city for cremation.
Politicians such as Doug Beattie of the Ulster Unionist Party, Jim Allister of the Traditional Unionist Voice party, Alliance leader Naomi Long and DUP East Derry MP Gregory Campbell complained that Covid-19 rules were broken during the funeral.
Mr Campbell said: “The presence of senior Sinn Féin personnel such as Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and others will lead many to conclude it is ‘do as I say not as I do’. Police action needs to follow and be seen to take effect.”
The North’s Minister for Health Robin Swann said the PSNI were investigating. “I sincerely hope that this isn’t the Dominic Cummings effect in Northern Ireland because in our health service we can’t afford it to be,” he said.