Northern Ireland

Tom Elliott 'has no regrets' over Ronan Kerr funeral

Tom Elliot and Danny Kennedy shake hands with Tyrone GAA manager Mickey Harte at Ronan Kerr's funeral
Image caption Tom Elliott and Danny Kennedy shake hands with Tyrone GAA manager Mickey Harte at Ronan Kerr's funeral

Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott has said he has no regrets about attending the funeral of Catholic police officer Constable Ronan Kerr.

Mr Elliott and UUP colleague Danny Kennedy - both Orange Order members - are facing disciplinary proceedings by the order for attending the funeral.

The Orange Order bans members from Catholic services and one south Belfast lodge complained about them.

However, Mr Elliott said they had shown leadership by attending.

Constable Kerr was killed by a car bomb outside his home in Omagh on 2 April.

Mr Elliott said going to the funeral was "right for the entire society of Northern Ireland and, maybe more importantly, right for the Kerr family.

"We did what we believed was the honourable thing and certainly I, and I know Danny, has no regrets over that.

"Danny Kennedy and I are leaders in society, what we want to do is ensure we move Northern Ireland forward.

"I do not believe it was any sin or crime to go to the funeral of a murdered police officer."

The complaint against Mr Elliott and Mr Kennedy - from a lodge in the Sandy Row area - accused they of having "sold their principles for political expediency".

Disciplinary hearings will now be heard, possibly as early as next month.

Mr Elliott said it was important to remember just one lodge had complained, but he said he found their actions surprising and said it was demoralising when he considered what the Kerr family was going through.

"The Kerr family I have a lot of sympathy for at this particular time, because I'm sure it's retraumatising them as a family," he said.

'Antiquated'

Earlier, the widow of another murdered policeman condemned the Orange Order ban as "antiquated".

Kate Carroll said Mr Elliott and Mr Kennedy had also attended Mass for her murdered husband, Stephen.

Constable Carroll was shot in Craigavon in March 2009 by the Continuity IRA. He was the first police officer to be killed since the formation of the PSNI.

Image caption Kate Carroll said the unionist leaders were noble

Mrs Carroll said she admired the two UUP men for taking their stand.

Speaking about their attendance at her husband's funeral, she said: "It was groundbreaking. I was delighted to see that people as prominent as them were there to show solidarity with police."

She said it was "extremely noble and brave" of them.

Embarrassment

Former senior Orangeman, Reverend Brian Kennaway, said the disciplinary action was "an embarrassment" for the lodge.

"Multitudes of Orangemen through Ireland either attend marriage ceremonies or funerals. They see it as paying their respects and as their duty," he said.

"The vast majority of people, including the leadership are embarrassed by this."

Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly said the Orange Order had "shown its true colours".

"By having these anti-Catholic rules the Orange Order is showing that it is clearly a sectarian organisation," he said.

"Attempts by the Orange Order to rebrand itself as a cultural organisation are completely discredited while they retain sectarian rules."

A source close to the two men said they had "no regrets" about attending Constable Kerr's funeral, that they did the right thing and they had no hesitation in giving support to the Kerr family.

The source also said they felt "no less orange or unionist" for having attended the funeral and they were annoyed that people could have the kind of mindset displayed by the lodge which made the complaint.

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