After one of the bloodiest weeks in Northern Ireland in recent years, the British government Monday announced an urgent review of security measures for politically volatile funeral processions in the troubled province.
Speaking to a crowded, subdued House of Commons, Britain's secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Tom King, defended a recently adopted policy under which the police are to stay clear of funerals for members of the outlawed Irish Republican Army.
But King admitted that two attacks in recent days, which left five dead and about 70 injured, have made necessary an immediate review of the controversial policy.
In the past, a strong police presence at IRA funerals has resulted in serious violence, and it has been widely criticized as instigating unrest.
The IRA, which has never accepted the 1920 partition of Ireland, has fought a sporadic terrorist campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland, also known as Ulster. The IRA wants to reunite the province and its six counties with the predominantly Roman Catholic Republic of Ireland. Most of Ulster's Protestants, who account for 60% of its population, strenuously resist the idea of a united Ireland.
King said Monday that the "hands off" policy was at first successful, but he added, "Clearly the two incidents that subsequently occurred are wholly unacceptable and do require immediate review in regard to policing to be followed at any future funeral."
Last Wednesday, at an unpoliced funeral in Belfast for three IRA guerrillas shot to death March 6 by British commandos in Gibraltar, a Protestant extremist hurled grenades and fired a pistol into a crowd of mourners. Three persons were killed and 68 were injured.
On Saturday, two British army corporals who apparently blundered into an IRA funeral cortege in Belfast were seized by enraged mourners, dragged from their car, stripped, beaten and shot to death.
The incidents were recorded by television cameras and shown on news programs. The people of Northern Ireland, although hardened by years of sectarian warfare, have been shaken.
"Mr. Speaker," King said Monday, "the common phrase this weekend is that the troubles of Northern Ireland had plumbed new depths of horror. The awful truth is that there will be new depths again so long as this awful and violent campaign of terrorism and revenge continues. It has got to stop, in the name of humanity. . . ."
Nonetheless, there was fresh violence Monday in Northern Ireland. Only hours before King spoke out in Parliament, a police officer was killed by sniper fire in a Catholic section of Londonderry. The IRA said it was responsible for the killing.
2,639th Fatal Victim
The officer, 25-year-old Clive Graham, was the 2,639th fatal victim of the sectarian violence since the most recent guerrilla campaign started nearly 20 years ago.
Earlier in the day, the IRA apologized for killing a 21-year-old Protestant girl in Fermanagh last Friday. It said the attack was a mistake.
Clearly, the week of violence made an impact on political figures responsible for the province. Some issued new calls for talks that might lead to a sharing of power by Protestants and Catholics.
"There's a desperate need for dialogue, not to clobber one another but to talk," said John Hume, the most prominent moderate Catholic politician in the province.
Kevin McNamara, the opposition Labor Party spokesman on Northern Ireland affairs, urged Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to get involved more directly in Anglo-Irish affairs, and to use her influence to cool the situation. Irish affairs is one of the few issues on which Thatcher has the support of most of her political opponents.
End to Agreement Urged
King, too, pleaded for the start of political contacts across religious lines, but Ulster's Protestant political leaders brushed aside such calls and demanded instead that the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 be scrapped. The agreement is aimed at giving minority Catholics greater confidence in the process of law and order, as well as a share of political power in the province.
The provincial government of Northern Ireland was for many years dominated by Protestants, but at present Ulster is ruled directly from London.
King said in his statement that two men had been arrested in connection with the killing of the two corporals Saturday and that a "massive murder investigation" is under way to identify others involved.