Billy McKee funeral: PSNI respond to concerns about IRA guns

Veteran republican Billy McKee died at his Belfast home on Tuesday morning.''He was a key figure in the establishment of the Provisional IRA in Belfast in the 1970s before reportedly leaving the IRA Army Council in the late 1970s after a disagreement with the leadership.''Mr McKee first joined the IRA in the 1930s and was imprisoned numerous times over the years for IRA activity. Photo: Pacemaker.
Veteran republican Billy McKee died at his Belfast home on Tuesday morning.''He was a key figure in the establishment of the Provisional IRA in Belfast in the 1970s before reportedly leaving the IRA Army Council in the late 1970s after a disagreement with the leadership.''Mr McKee first joined the IRA in the 1930s and was imprisoned numerous times over the years for IRA activity. Photo: Pacemaker.

The PSNI has responded to concerns about IRA firearms displays or other terrorist trappings at the funeral of IRA chief Billy McKee in Belfast on Saturday.

Mr McKee, 97, was a founder member of the Provisional IRA, a former ‘Army Council’ member and former ‘officer commanding’ of the organisation in Belfast.

Regarded as a “legend” by many republicans, it is expected that substantial numbers of people will come from across the island of Ireland to attend his funeral at St Peter’s Cathedral on Saturday morning, followed by burial at Milltown Cemetery.

It is expected to be one the biggest republican funerals seen in the city for many years.

A UUP delegation recently met senior PSNI officers to press for clarity about paramilitary shows of strength associated with several funerals in west Belfast.

In particular, the UUP was concerned about the recent funeral of veteran republican Peter ‘Pepe’ Rooney, 63. He was buried in Belfast recently, with the Irish News carrying a photo of “a group of independent ‘veteran’ former IRA members” firing pistols over the coffin ahead of the funeral. The UUP quizzed senior PSNI officers on the status of the Provisional IRA in the light of the show of strength.

UUP Justice Spokesman Doug Beattie expressed concerns today about what might happen around Mr McKee’s funeral.

“Those who want to attend Billy McKee’s funeral should attend it, those who want to commemorate him should commemorate,” he told the News Letter.

“The vast majority will remember him as a remorseless terrorist responsible for a campaign of cruelty that murdered hundreds and ended in utter failure leaving him embittered and disappointed.

“Whatever way you choose to remember Billy McKee there should be no guns on the streets in commemoration, no paramilitary uniforms and no jingoistic language to increase the hurt on his many victims. If there is, then it is important that the police are prepared and act accordingly.”

The PSNI responded that it takes a proportionate approach to funerals.

“Where there is a police response to any funeral, it will be proportionate to the overall circumstances and mindful of family and community sensitivities,” a spokeswoman told the News Letter.

“Police have a responsibility under Section 32 Police (NI) Act to take measures to bring offenders to justice where an offence has been committed. Therefore where offences are suspected or detected, police will investigate.”