Policeman's funeral unites Northern Ireland
The Irish Republican Army dissidents who shocked Northern Ireland by killing two British soldiers and a policeman within a 48-hour period...
The New York Times
The Irish Republican Army dissidents who shocked Northern Ireland by killing two British soldiers and a policeman within a 48-hour period have made no secret of their ambition to ignite a new wave of sectarian bloodletting.
But as formerly sworn enemies filed into a Friday to mourn as one, the funeral of the slain policeman provided the most powerful demonstration of the ways in which the province has united against a return to the violence that divided the country for 30 years.
Rallies that drew thousands to vigils this week in Belfast and other major towns across the north and dozens of interviews suggested that the old antagonists — Roman Catholics and Protestants, nationalists seeking a united Ireland and "Unionists" committed to keeping Ulster a part of Britain — remain determined to settle their future in peace.
The relative prosperity that peace has brought and the respite from the cycle of killings and revenge have built a constituency for the power-sharing government in Belfast. That arrangement, which has worked for 22 months, has given practical form to the reconciliation envisaged in the Good Friday agreement of 1998, brokered by the U.S.
As much as it was a farewell to the police officer slain Monday night, Constable Stephen Carroll, the funeral Friday also served as a memorial for the two unarmed British soldiers killed outside their base in Antrim last Saturday night.
The melancholy of the occasion was captured in the laments played by the lone bagpiper who marched ahead of Carroll's hearse as it passed through streets lined with thousands of Catholics and Protestants in Banbridge, 30 miles southwest of Belfast. More powerful still was the mood of resolve and defiance evident among the 1,000 mourners in St. Therese Roman Catholic Church.
Old foes gather
Some said that never in Ireland's modern history had there been such an improbable gathering of old foes.
Veterans of the Irish Republican Army, spearhead for nearly a century of the drive for the reunification of Ireland, sat in pews alongside loyalists still pledged to keep Ulster part of Britain.
Politicians and police commanders from both sides of the border sat together, and Anglican and Roman Catholic priests stood beside each other before the altar. Old adversaries wept together, especially when a choir sang "Amazing Grace," sung often during the funerals of the 3,700 people killed during "the Troubles," as people in Ireland called the decades of sectarian struggle.
Carroll, 48, was in many ways a totem for what has changed. A Catholic, he spent 23 years in a police force that has historically been Protestant-dominated but that changed as radically as anything else in Ulster as the province moved deeper into the peace process.
The Catholic priest who delivered the eulogy, Canon Liam Stevenson, 50, encapsulated the mood with his condemnation of the men from the two dissident IRA groups — the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA — who claimed responsibility for the killings. He said the killers had "abused" the patriotism they proclaimed because "the word has no meaning when it is allied to violence and death."
He said an attack on the new police force was tantamount to "an attack on the whole population of Northern Ireland." Now known as the Police Service of Northern Ireland, it emerged from the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which was widely hated among Catholics for its harsh tactics. It has been stripped of paramilitary units and has recruited equally among Catholics and Protestants.
When he died, Carroll was in an ordinary patrol car, not an armored Land Rover of the kind used by the old police force, part of an effort to show a gentler profile.
Authorities have detained a 37-year-old man, a man in his mid-20s and a 17-year-old boy for questioning in Carroll's death.
An equal resolve to maintain peace prevailed among mourners who streamed throughout the week to lay flowers outside the Massereene army base in Antrim, 15 miles northwest of Belfast.
The bodies of the two soldiers who died there, Patrick Azimkar, 21, and Mark Quinsey, 23, were flown back to their families in mainland Britain on Thursday. No arrests have been made in their slayings.
Most Protestant mourners said they wanted nothing to disturb the peace process.
Only one man among more than a dozen people interviewed demurred. Jonathan Johns, 40, a medic trained by the British army, said he worried about the sincerity of the leaders of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, in the power-sharing government.
"The eyes of the world are on them, so they're saying the right things," he said.
"But let's just say I'm skeptical. Who's to say this wasn't part of a wider agenda?"
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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