McGuinness planned the firing of shots over coffin in church grounds
Bishop ordered ban on paramilitary trappings which ended only with McGuinness’s own funeral
Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness (right) at the funeral of Patrick Kelly. Photograph: PA Wire
Martin McGuinness personally planned the firing of a volley of shots over the coffin of an IRA man within church grounds, in what became one of the most significant clashes between the Catholic Church and the Provos during the Troubles, according to newly declassified files.
The controversial incident was “a godsend for Gerry Adams” at the time who needed an “emotive issue” to get re-elected, a secret Irish government contact told a diplomat.
In Derry in March 1987, two masked gunmen emerged from the doors of St Columba’s Church in Long Tower and opened fire over the coffin of Gerard Logue, just yards away from a massive and heavily armed police and British army presence.
Mourners cheered and applauded as the men disappeared back inside the church.
Then bishop of Derry Edward Daly was furious over what he said was the desecration of the sanctity of church grounds. He ordered a ban on paramilitary trappings including flags, which ended only with McGuinness’s funeral at the same church three decades later.
In State files marked “Secret”, a diplomat reported to the government in April 1988 that Danny Morrison, former Sinn Féin publicity director, had met the government’s “usual contact” that month.
‘Pleased’ with controversy
Morrison made it clear to the contact that the Provos were “very pleased” with the ongoing controversy over the police handling of paramilitary funerals and intended to “keep the pot boiling”.An RUC policy of “swamping” republican funerals had started in December 1983, Morrison said, and prior to that they had kept a discreet distance from mourners.
He had counted 25 IRA and INLA funerals in subsequent years where there was a “much more obtrusive police presence”.
“It was not until the Logue funeral in Derry, however, that any shots had been fired by the paramilitaries – despite a steadily rising police profile at these funerals,” the diplomat, David Donoghue, noted in his missive to Dublin, now released under the 30-year rule.
“Morrison intimated that Martin McGuinness had been personally involved in the planning and execution of the Derry incident.”
The diplomat added: “My contact sees the funerals issue as a godsend for Gerry Adams, who will be relying for his re-election on the ‘floating vote’ of people undecided between the SDLP and Sinn Féin and who needs an emotive issue with which to capture this vote.”
A week after the Derry incident, Bishop Daly – synonymous with waving a bloodstained white handkerchief during Bloody Sunday – declared paramilitary trappings, including flags, black gloves and berets, would no longer be permitted within church grounds.
A Catholic Church spokesman said at the time that Mass would still be said for dead IRA men but not while their coffins were within the churches or their grounds.
After appeals from families, the IRA eventually agreed to remove paramilitary trappings from coffins before funerals entered church grounds.
McGuinness, who said he left the IRA in 1974, was buried after his requiem mass was held in the same Long Tower church last year. His coffin was draped in the Tricolour, marking an end to the ban enforced three decades earlier.
Bishop Donal McKeown said it was decided that the North’s former deputy first minister “should be given a comparable honour to that which would have been accorded to a former or serving head of State or government of Ireland”.
Responding to the newly-declassified documents, Danny Morrison said they were a “nonsense” which suggest someone was “feeding into the Irish government an anti-republican prejudice”.
“I had been lobbying the likes of Cardinal Ó Fiach and other people, trying to get them to put pressure on the police to stop harassing our funerals, because of the strain it was putting relatives under, including friends of mine,” he said.
“Why would I be saying ‘keep the pot boiling’ – it’s a nonsense.
“It suggests to me that the author of the report or the origin of the report is actually feeding in what they want the other side to believe about me, or the republican movement. That’s the construction I would put on it. I never said that to anybody.
“It was horrible what they were doing to our funerals.
“To me it’s a fabrication.”
On his reported remarks about McGuinness’s involvement in the shots being fired at the Derry funeral, Morrison said: “I have been in Castlereagh barracks and Strand Road barracks and Gough barracks over a period of 40 years and never spoke like that in my life, so why would I turn around and say to somebody that this was the case?”
Mr Morrison said he is “seriously sceptical about the truthfulness of this report”.