Northern Ireland

New group set up to challenge Catholic Church ban on tricolours being placed on coffins during funerals

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 described a Catholic Church ban on the national flag in churches as a "political decision". Picture by Hugh Russell

The refusal of some Catholic priests to allow the tricolour to be placed on coffins on church property has been branded a "political decision".

Read More: Catholic church urged to clarify tricolour rules

The comments came as it emerged that a new group has been formed to campaign on the issue.

Since the 1980s, republicans in the north have been banned by church authorities from placing the tricolour and other flags on coffins inside churches during Requiem Mass.

The rule has at times caused tension between relatives of the dead and some members of the clergy.

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

The Catholic Church allowed a tricolour to be placed on the coffin of former Stormont deputy first  minister Martin McGuinness during his Requiem Mass in 2017
The Catholic Church allowed a tricolour to be placed on the coffin of former Stormont deputy first minister Martin McGuinness during his Requiem Mass in 2017

The debate around the flag issue reignited several years ago after the tricolour draped coffin of former Sinn Féin and Provisional IRA leader Martin McGuinness, who died in 2017, 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)".

A recently formed group, which draws members from across the north, is now seeking to have the tricolour ban overturned.

Former republican prisoner Seamus McAloran, who helped form the new group, said it is non party political and "is a collective of like-minded people, some church goers and not all ex-prisoners".

Mr McAloran has been involved in correspondence with both the Diocese of Down and Connor and individual priests over the issue.

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.

Article 32 of Sacrosanctum Concilium, states that "there are liturgical laws providing for due honors to be given to civil authorities" but that "no special honors are to be paid in the liturgy to any private persons or classes of persons, whether in the ceremonies or by external display".

Mr McAloran believes the reason is more straight forward.

"When the smokescreen of Sacrosanctum Concilium, including article 32, is removed it becomes very clear that other factors are at play in not allowing the flag on the coffin to enter the church," he said.

"I believe it to be a political decision."

Mr McAloran said that in each diocese, the Council of Priests makes recommendations to the respective bishop, meaning any decision made is not just down to the bishop of the day.

Pope Francis
Pope Francis

He believes any refusal to allow the tricolour to be placed on a coffin "sounds like clericalism" - a practice that Pope Francis has previously raised concerns about.

"I believe that in 2021 in the age of parity of esteem, that this is a human/civil rights issue," he said.

"I believe that, even in death, parishioners and their families are being discriminated against because of their political beliefs.

"I strongly believe that the practice should end."

Mr McAloran said he has attended funerals of fellow republicans where the clergy have refused to allow a tricolour draped coffin to carried into the church.

"It's very upsetting for relatives," he said.

"People have said in the aftermath of funerals 'I have denied my ma or my da's wishes.

"That is guilt that does not need to be there."

Mr McAloran said he and others will continue to confront the church on the issue.

The Catholic Church was contacted.