Catholic church urged to clarify tricolour rules

The Catholic Church allowed a tricolour to be draped over the coffin of Martin McGuinness during his Requiem Mass in erry last month.
The Catholic Church allowed a tricolour to be draped over the coffin of Martin McGuinness during his Requiem Mass in erry last month.

A group of former republican prisoners have called on the Catholic church to clarify the rules around placing tricolours on coffins inside churches during funerals.

Since the 1980’s republicans in the north have been banned by church authorities from placing the national flag and paramilitary trappings on coffins inside churches during Requiem Mass.

However, it is claimed some priests ignore the directive and allow flag draped coffins inside churches while others enforce the rule rigidly.

In many cases republicans voluntarily remove the flag before entering the church.

The debate around the flag issue was reignited last month after the tricolour draped coffin of former Sinn Féin and Provisional IRA leader Martin McGuinness was allowed into Long Tower Church in Derry during his Requiem Mass.

Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown later said Mr McGuinness had been afforded “a comparable honour to that which would have been accorded to a former or serving head of state or government of Ireland (Uachtarán or Taoiseach)".

It has now emerged that a group of ex-prisoners involved with the Falls Cultural Society have written to and met with Catholic church officials in recent years in a bid to have the rules clarified.

Falls Cultural Society is responsible for arranging republican commemorations in the area and the maintenance of a garden of remembrance on the Falls Road.

Frank Dempsey, who first contacted the church in 2015, said authorities have been slow to respond to calls for clarification.

Mr Dempsey said the church needs to explain whether the decision to ban the flag is church policy or at the discretion of individual priests.

He said church officials confirmed that the ‘Northern Bishops’ had considered the matter and referred it to the ‘Council for Priests’.

Officials later said the matter was being considered by the ‘Northern Bishops’ “in light of responses from the ‘Council of Priests’

Mr Dempsey said the approach adopted by the church is inconsistent.

“Martin McGuinness was allowed to have it and was entitled to it, why can’t every other Irishman,” he asked.

And he asked: “Why do individual priests allow the flag in?"

“If it’s the case you have to get your own priests, they need to say that.

“The problem is priest are all over the place, there is no consistency.”

The decision to ban the flag and paramilitary trappings was taken by former Bishop of Derry, Edward Daly, after shots were fired over the coffin of IRA man Gerard Logue inside the grounds of St Columba's Church in Derry in 1987.

A spokesman for Down and Connor Diocese said there has been no change in church policy.

“The celebration of funeral rights reminds us of our baptismal identity and for this reason the bible is placed apon the coffin, the crucifix and in some cases a pall signalling our baptism identity that we are new creation in God’s sight,” he said.