State Papers

Martin McGuinness threatened to withhold IRA man's body in stand-off with bishop

The papers claimed Mr McGuinness was smarting over comments made by Bishop of Derry Edward Daly about restricting IRA funerals amid paramilitary shows of strength 
Ed Carty, Press Association

Martin McGuinness threatened to hold a dead IRA man's body for a week amid tensions over paramilitary shows of strength at funerals, state papers have revealed.

He personally delivered the chilling message to Bishop Cahal Daly's secretary as a stand-off ensued over the burial of Larry Marley in Belfast in April 1987.

Marley, the mastermind of the 1983 Maze escape, was shot dead by the UVF in front of his wife and newborn son at their home in Ardoyne.

Amid a huge security operation, his funeral was delayed for three days and there were two failed attempts to bury him as a heavily armed police cordon stepped in each time to stop shots being fired.

At one point during the stand-off Marley's body had to be embalmed for second time while in the family home and the RUC threatened to seize the remains under public health laws.

Documents released from the Department of Foreign Affairs reveal Mr McGuinness issued the warning to the bishop's emissary Fr Hugh Starkey as he mediated between the Marley family and the RUC.

He said the Sinn Féin chief told Cahal Daly's secretary: "We have the body and will keep it for a week, if necessary, until the Bishop speaks."

The papers claimed Mr McGuinness was smarting over comments made by Bishop of Derry Edward Daly about restricting IRA funerals amid paramilitary shows of strength.

Bishop Edward Daly had raised concerns that he had to say "enough is enough" and feared that if he did not take "strong and dramatic" action that some Provos might be emboldened enough to fire shots inside a church rather than outside.

A Foreign Affairs official said Mr McGuinness wanted to force Bishop Cahal Daly to make a public statement, "preferably a rebuke to the police and sympathy with the predicament of the family".

He noted that the Bishop "wisely refused to be drawn into this trap".

"Bishop Daly's refusal to act according to Sinn Féin's bidding has created a resentment towards the Church in that section of the nationalist community which Fr Starkey hopes will only be temporary," the file said.

Marley's funeral and burial lasted seven hours. A Foreign Affairs official watching the events said it was the "biggest propaganda coup since the 1981 hunger strike".

In the days after the funeral, Cahal Daly, then Bishop of Down and Connor, called on the RUC to rethink its approach to dealing with paramilitary funerals.

The documents also state that Fr Starkey reported suspicions that Marley had been "set up by his own people" as part of an internal Provo feud.

The priest recalled one visit to the Marley home during the stand-off as "unsettling and macabre".

With the coffin in the house, Fr Starkey said prayers while an IRA guard of honour stood by.

The funeral eventually took place with the RUC keeping three feet from the mourners who flanked the coffin.

Fr Starkey told Foreign Affairs he felt he pulled a "master stroke" just before the coffin was taken from the house when he told everyone in the house to get on their knees and recite the rosary.

He said it reminded them it was a religious ceremony not a political event.

Files on the affair from the Department of Foreign Affairs can be read at 2017/20/19.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe from just £1 for the first month to get full access

Today's horoscope

Horoscope


See a different horoscope: