Northern Ireland news

Strabane arrests mark change in tactics from PSNI

PSNI officers swoop on a house in an estate in Strabane shortly after the funeral of Michael Barr in the town

The arrests following the funeral of Mickey Barr in Strabane yesterday mark a change of tactic for the PSNI, who have came under heavy criticism in recent years when it comes to paramilitary displays.

A 'colour party' also featured at several other recent republican funerals and commemorations, all of which were allowed to proceed without interference.

However, the police reaction to the presence of masked men in Strabane was very different to the 'watching brief' of previous occasions.

Senior officers had defended the passive approach in the face of unionist criticism, saying it may be operationally safer to gather evidence and arrest people at a later date rather that risk public disorder.

There were numerous paramilitary displays during recent Easter Rising commemorations.

In Lurgan, masked men marched in a parade organised by Republican Sinn Féin.

A Belfast parade organised by the IRSP at Milltown also had men in paramilitary dress, as did a parade in Coalisland.

Unionists have complained that police stood back from these gatherings, filming from either a helicopter or at a safe distance.

At yesterday's funeral, however, officers adopted tactics more like those witnessed during republican funerals of the late 1980s, when riot police moved in and arrested men at the scene.

Barr was shot dead in Dublin last month by members of the Kinahan drug gang over claims he supplied the AK47 weapons used in the city's Regency Hotel shooting earlier this year.

Originally from Strabane but living in the Republic, his Dublin home in Finglas had previously been raided by gardai investigating the hotel shooting, which killed gang member David Byrne.

The group calling itself the 'IRA' claimed Barr as one of its members and there had been speculation that there would be paramilitary trappings at the funeral.

However, this alone is unlikely to have been responsible for the change in approach from the PSNI.

While several hundred people attended the funeral, the majority of mourners had travelled from outside of Co Tyrone.

The 'IRA' and the vigilante group RAAD that Barr was previously a member of would not have a large support base in Strabane.

As such police would have been aware that any backlash or political fall-out from moving in could be more easily contained.

The risk to officers would also be lower in the area than in parts of Belfast or Derry where similar funerals have passed off without police interference.

However, what the arrests in Co Tyrone will do is set a precedent for future events.

If direct action was possible in Strabane, then critics are likely to say arrests should also be made elsewhere regardless of location or circumstance.

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