Northern Ireland news

Shots fired ahead of funeral of IRA Gibraltar escapee

Shots fired in west Belfast last week in tribute to IRA man Peter Rooney

Masked men have fired a volley of shots in memory of a man believed to have been the fourth member of an IRA unit sent to Gibraltar in 1988 on a bombing mission.

Veteran republican Peter 'Pepe' Rooney (63) was buried last Wednesday after a lengthy battle with cancer. 

Thousands of people attended his burial in Milltown cemetery in one of the largest republican funerals seen in many years.

Despite having no role in organising the service, senior Sinn Féin members Bobby Storey, Gerry Kelly and Sean 'Spike' Murray were present.

Sources say the masked display, thought to have taken place the night before the funeral, was organised by a group of independent 'veteran' former IRA members.

Funeral of Peter 'Pepe' Rooney in west Belfast last week.

Well known in his native west Belfast, in 1981 Rooney was convicted after being arrested as part of a colour party which fired shots over the coffin of Joe McDonnell, who died after 61 days on hunger strike.

Dressed in full uniform and armed with Garrand rifles he was among four men pictured firing a three-volley salute to the IRA man before making off into Andersonstown. The picture is one of the most iconic of the Troubles and has appeared in countless publications.

The British army and the RUC moved in on the funeral, which ended in widespread civil disorder. Rooney was arrested along with three other men and served a prison sentence in the Maze.

After being released he went straight back to IRA activity and at an oration given at his funeral it was said that as a member of the organisation he had travelled across Europe, although his involvement in Gibraltar was not specifically mentioned.

A volley of rifle shots over the coffin of hunger striker Joe McDonnell in Andersonstown in 1981.

In 1988 IRA members Mairead Farrell, Dan McCann and Sean Savage were shot dead by the SAS in the small British overseas territory bordering Spain.

At the time it was claimed they were on a bombing mission. However, no bomb was ever discovered and all three were unarmed, leading to speculation that other members of the unit escaped.

Rooney, a close friend of McCann, escaped capture and made his way back from the Gibraltar to Belfast undetected.

Rooney was originally from the Rodney Parade area of St James's. His brother Daniel Rooney (18) was shot in September 1972 by a gunman from the shadowy Military Reaction Force (MRF). He died later in hospital.

In 2016 the remains of the teenager were exhumed to gather evidence as part of a new investigation into the activities of the MRF.

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