Northern Ireland

Catholic church faces fresh calls over tricolour

Campaigners want coffins draped with tricolour to be allowed into churches during Requiem Mass

Seamus McAloran has described a Catholic Church ban on the national flag in churches as a "political decision". Picture by Hugh Russell
Seamus McAloran has asked the Catholic Church to reconsider the ban on the national flag in churches

The Catholic church has faced fresh calls to lift a ban on tricolours being placed on the coffins of dead republicans during Requiem Mass.

The refusal of some priests to allow the national flag to be placed on coffins on church property has previously been branded a “political decision”.

Republicans have been banned by church authorities from placing the tricolour and other flags on coffins inside churches during Requiem Mass since the 1980s.

The policy has in the past caused tension between members of the clergy and relatives of the dead.

While it is thought that some priests turn a blind eye to the directive others insist the rules are followed.

In recent years there have been high profile examples of when the rules have been waived, including the funeral of former Sinn Féin and Provisional IRA leader Martin McGuinness, whose tricolour draped coffin was allowed into Long Tower Church in Derry after his death in 2017.

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)”.

The tricolour-draped coffin of former deputy first minister and ex-IRA commander Martin McGuinness at St Columba's Church, Long Tower, Derry during his funeral in 2017
The Catholic Church allowed a tricolour to be draped over the coffin of Martin McGuinness

Earlier this year, former Taoiseach John Bruton was given a full state funeral, which included the tricolour and a volley of shots.

Former republican prisoner Seamus McAloran has been involved in correspondence with individual priests, the Diocese of Down and Connor and Armagh over the issue.

He is involved with a new group formed last years to press church authorities on it.

The north Belfast man said he has been told that symbols and emblems allowed into church buildings are directed by liturgical norms of the church in documents such as Sacrosanctum Concilium, one of the constitutions of the Second Vatican Council.

In correspondence with church authorities, Mr McAloran has highlighted scripture concerning how everyone should be treated equally.

“Why make a difference?” he asked.

“Why are some people more important than other people?

“It should not be happening and that’s the bottom line.”

Mr McAloran believes that if the church insists on using theological arguments, they must apply to everyone.

He said he has written to local parishes and senior figures at diocesan level and is “now back at square one” as no positive response has been forthcoming.

His solicitor Paul Pierce, of KRW Law, said “this is an important issue for many people”.

“It is also a matter of some sensitivity, due to the uncertain circumstances in which bereaved families will find themselves having to liaise with the church on this issue,” he said.

“In order to clarify the position, we have written to the church on four separate occasions.”

Mr Pierce said no detailed response has been received.

“We have asked the Catholic Church to clarify their policy in respect of the draping of the Irish tricolour on coffins during Requiem Mass,” he said.

“We have yet to receive a substantive response from the church on this issue.

“We will continue to make those representations on behalf of our client until we get that response.”

The Catholic Church was contacted.