MLA criticised for role at funeral where shots fired

SDLP MLA Colm Eastwood carries the coffin of former Derry Republican Seamus 'Chang' Coyle in the City Cemetery on Tuesday morning, flanked by an IRSP colour party. 2004FP01

SDLP MLA Colm Eastwood carries the coffin of former Derry Republican Seamus 'Chang' Coyle in the City Cemetery on Tuesday morning, flanked by an IRSP colour party. 2004FP01

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Foyle SDLP MLA Colum Eastwood has been criticised for participating in a paramilitary funeral in the city during which a masked gunman fired a volley of shots.

Mr Eastwood, a member of the Assembly’s Justice committee, carried the coffin of Derry republican Seamus ‘Chang’ Coyle flanked by a colour party dressed in paramilitary uniform on Tuesday morning.

Mr Coyle, who died last weekend, had been a member of the Official IRA and INLA in Derry.

The Assembly member carried the coffin shortly before a masked member of the Real IRA fired up to a dozen shots from an automatic rifle over the coffin in the Rosemount Gardens area of the city.

Mr Eastwood defended his participation in the funeral, describing the late Mr Coyle as “a close friend” and accusing the TUV leader of “narrow bitterness”.

He told the ‘Journal’ he is not prepared to disown anyone because of political difference.

Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister said he was “astounded” by Mr Eastwood’s participation in the funeral and called on the MLA to explain his actions.

“I am astounded that he would lend, by his presence, any semblance of consent to a paramilitary display. He needs to explain himself,” he said.

Mr Allister also said Mr Eastwood’s actions stood in contrast to his membership of the Stormont Justice committee.

“It is no place for a member of an elected Assembly or particularly a member of a justice committee to be present during what amounts to a paramilitary display. It would be interesting to hear what the SDLP leadership have to say about this,” he said.

Mr Eastwood, a former Mayor of Derry, said; “Myself and Seamus disagreed on many things. This did not and would not stop me from attending the marking of his death. It is worth saying that he was fully committed to the peace process.

“My role as a political representative is to articulate my own vision for this community’s political future and to hopefully persuade others. I can only do this as a full member of this community, a community of diverse political experiences and attitudes. I will not stand back and disown those who I disagree with.

“I am confident that the people of Derry understand this way of conducting politics. It is ultimately how our peace was achieved.

“The politics of Jim Alistair offers no resolution or reconciliation to the North or to Ireland. His is a politics of narrow bitterness, comfortable in its detachment from the challenges and legacies which this community still faces.”