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Former Northern Ireland foes grieve at policeman's funeral
Fri Mar 13, 2009 10:53am EDT
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By Anne Cadwallader
BANBRIDGE, Northern Ireland (Reuters) - Northern Ireland's former foes joined mourners on Friday at the burial of a policeman killed by dissident republicans this week, in a symbol of unity across the sectarian divide.
Separately, a splinter group opposed to the peace process warned there would be no end to violence in the province while it remained under British control.
The Real IRA shot dead two soldiers on Saturday in the deadliest act of violence in Northern Ireland in over a decade. Their attack was followed two days later by the killing of police officer Stephen Carroll by another splinter group, the Continuity IRA.
A lone bagpiper led hundreds of mourners to the Catholic church where Carroll was laid to rest in his home town of Banbridge, 24 miles south of Belfast.
"Our prayer today is that Stephen's horrendous killing will galvanize us in our pursuit of mutual understanding, tolerance and respect for one another," Canon Liam Stevenson said after mass was recited.
The shootings shattered relative calm brought by a 1998 peace deal which ended 30 years of violence between the Irish Republican Army (IRA), seeking a united Ireland, and pro-British Protestant groups.
Mourners included members of IRA ally Sinn Fein -- the first time the nationalist party had sent members to the burial of an officer killed in sectarian violence.
"I do hope this is the last funeral I will ever attend as a result of this conflict," said Sinn Fein politician Alex Maskey.
Protestant leaders sat side by side with Catholic counterparts. Ireland's Justice Minister Dermot Ahern also attended.
"We're a hundred percent behind the peace process, we're not going to be put off by the actions of a few dissident republicans, so-called republicans," said Jackie McDonald, a former loyalist prisoner and alleged senior member of pro-British paramilitary group the Ulster Defense Association.
Sinn Fein, which seeks a united Ireland by peaceful means, agreed to share power in 2007 a provincial government with the Pro-British Democratic Unionist Party, cementing the 1998 deal.
This week, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, an IRA commander in the 1970s, slammed the dissidents as "traitors" -- one of the worst insults in pro-Irish nationalist quarters -- as he sought to shore up the peace process and reassure Protestant partners.
But a small group widely believed to be a political ally of the Real IRA said violence would continue as long the six counties of Northern Ireland remained separate from the 26 counties of the Republic of Ireland.
"If the conflict in Ireland is to end once and for all, so too must the illegal British claim to sovereignty over the six counties," The 32 County Sovereignty Movement said in an emailed statement seen by Reuters on Friday. Continued...
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