Northern Ireland news

Republicans to gather in Belfast on Saturday for funeral of founding IRA member Billy McKee

Belfast republican Billy McKee will be buried on Saturday
Connla Young

FORMER IRA prisoners are expected to help organise the funeral of veteran republican Billy McKee who died on Tuesday aged 97.

Mr McKee, from the lower Falls, helped establish the Provisional IRA in 1969 after the organisation split over differences in the direction.

He went on to become its ‘Officer Commanding’ in Belfast and was a key leadership figure who sat on the 'army council' before being sidelined in the late 1970s.

Republicans from across Ireland are expected to attend the former IRA leader’s funeral in west Belfast on Saturday.

Former republican prisoners are also expected to help organise the event.

From our archives:

The funeral will take place at 11am at St Peter's Cathedral followed by burial at Milltown Cemetery. It is expected to be one the biggest republican funerals seen in the city for years.

It is understood arrangements are being made by members of the ‘D Company’ Ex Prisoner’s Association. That organisation holds an annual Easter commemoration in west Belfast and maintains the republican garden of remembrance on the Falls Road.

Close friend and Belfast republican Francie McGuigan paid tribute to Mr McKee last night.

Mr McGuigan was a member of the group known as the ‘Hooded Men’ who say they were tortured during internment.

“He has been an inspiration to a generation of republicans and will carry on doing so for as long as the rest of us live,” Mr McGuigan said adding his named "rings alongside Clarke, McDonagh and the Fenians".

Billy McKee pictured with Proinsias MacAirt while in prison in the 1970s

“He was a character and a dry wit and always had a sharp answer for everyone and was a bit of a comedian. He was a great friend," he said.

A fierce critic of Sinn Féin’s current political strategy, Mr McKee was a figurehead for some opposed to the peace process.

Dissident republican groups paid tribute to Mr McKee last night.

Undated picture of Billy McKee and other republicans possibly taken at Ballykinlar camp in the1940s

Saoradh spokesman Dee Fennell said: “He was a man who led from the front and his loss will be keenly felt, especially in Belfast

He said members of Saoradh members were ”honoured at our inaugural ard fheis that Billy sent a message of support when we were formed and we were privileged to know he shared our analysis right up to his sad passing.”

Republican Sinn Féin said it extended "deepest sympathy to his family, comrades and friends".

Billy McKee and other republicans pictured in jail in the 1970s

Belfast DUP councillor Dale Pankhurst however was critical of Mr McKee and said “my thoughts are with the victims of PIRA violence today”.

From our archives:

Billy McKee 

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