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Respects paid to father of Hunger Striker Sands

HIS son is an icon of republicanism but yesterday there were no Sinn Fein representatives at the funeral of Bobby Sands's father.

Family and friends of John Sands gathered in west Belfast to pay their last respects to the 91-year-old, who passed away peacefully in hospital on Saturday. Requiem Mass was celebrated at St Agnes's Church on the Andersonstown Road.

Mr Sands's son Bobby led the 1981 Maze hunger strike in which 10 republicans died and is regarded as an iconic figure in modern republicanism. But despite the high esteem in which he is held, there were no Sinn Fein representatives present at the funeral.

Relatives of Mr Sands carried his coffin from the church, before burial at the City Cemetery in Belfast.

It is understood his family had asked for his funeral to remain private.

IRA prisoner Bobby Sands, who led the 1981 hunger strike, died after 66 days on the fast in which republican prisoners protested against the removal of special category status.

During the fast he was elected to Westminster as an Anti H-Block candidate.

A large mural of Sands is emblazoned on the wall of Sinn Fein headquarters on the Falls Road in Belfast and he has been commemorated every year since his death.

However, Sands' sister, Bernadette Sands McKevitt, who was a former leading member of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, which is linked to the dissident republican Real IRA, has been critical of Sinn Fein and its leader Gerry Adams in the past.

She has argued in the past that Mr Adams has sold out on republican principles.

"Bobby did not die for cross-border bodies with executive powers. He did not die for nationalists to be equal British citizens within the Northern Ireland state," she previously said.

Mr Sands is survived by his wife Roseleen and children, Marcella, Bernadette and John.

A Sinn Fein spokesman last night said: "We passed on our condolences and regret at the death of John Sands and respected the family's wishes".

* FATHER OF AN ICON: Left, John Sands. Right, the Bobby Sands mural on a wall of the Sinn Fein headquarters on Belfast's Falls Road

* LAID TO REST: Mourners carry the coffin of John Sands from St Agnes's Church on Andersonstown Road in west Belfast PICTURE: Hugh Russell

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