Doug Beattie presses PSNI Chief Constable on ‘active’ PIRA men’s funeral volley

The funeral of three IRA Gibraltar bombers in 1988. The fourth bomber, Peter Rooney, died in Belfast last week
The funeral of three IRA Gibraltar bombers in 1988. The fourth bomber, Peter Rooney, died in Belfast last week

The UUP’s Doug Beattie has pressed the chief constable for an explanation after “active” Provisional IRA members had access to weapons to fire a volley over a coffin in Belfast last week.

The PSNI are investigating reports that masked gunmen fired shots over the coffin of the fourth member of an IRA unit sent to Gibraltar in 1988 on a bombing mission.

Veteran republican Peter ‘Pepe’ Rooney, 63, was buried last Wednesday in Milltown Cemetery in Belfast. He was reportedly the fourth member of the IRA unit, the other three shot being dead by the SAS in Gibraltar in 1988.

Senior Sinn Fein members Bobby Storey, Gerry Kelly and Sean ‘Spike’ Murray were present at the massive funeral, but had no role in organising it, the Irish News reported. The paper carried a photo of three men in balaclavas firing pistols into the air. It reported that the display was thought to have taken place the night before the funeral and was organised by “a group of independent ‘veteran’ former IRA members”.

PSNI Det Insp Keith Wilson said: “While there have been no reports to police, we are aware of the images which apparently show masked armed men in recent days. An investigation is under way.”

DUP leader Arlene Foster said that almost three weeks after journalist Lyra McKee was shot dead in Londonderry “glorification of terrorism on our streets is wrong”.

She added: “Politicians and the community came together to say no [about McKee]. There should be the same unity against actions like this. Glorifying terror of the past only leads to confusion in the minds of the next generation ... Terrorism should not be allowed any further breeding ground.”

UUP MLA Doug Beattie queried where the weapons came from, noting they looked new and well maintained. He asked if decommissioned weapons have been compromised; if they had been retained; were part of a new shipment or were lawful personal protection weapons.

“These are IRA members who are active, coordinated, in receipt of training and logistical support,” he said. “To paint them as a kind of independent ‘veteran’ IRA membership trivialises the fact that they had access to these weapons and ammunition and knew how to use them. Again it is time the PSNI Chief Constable [George Hamilton] stood up and gave a public analysis of the IRA. Previously he said some of their structures remained but they were not active, I am of the belief that they are active and this is proof that they are well maintained.”

TUV leader Jim Allister added: “There is no attempt to claim that there were ‘dissident’ republican gunmen, proving that the mainstream IRA remains armed and active.”