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May 17, 2006

Mourners Attacked By Loyalists at Ballymena Funeral

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Mourners 'Attacked' By Loyalists At Ballymena Funeral

17/05/2006 - 17:35:35

Loyalists attacked mourners on their way to the funeral of
murdered Catholic schoolboy Michael McIlveen, it was claimed

Police confirmed they were investigating reports that a car was
stoned near a cemetery in Ballymena, Co Antrim.

The 15-year-old's coffin had been taken from All Saints Church
after Requiem Mass attended by more than 1,000 people united by
grief and opposition to sectarian hatred.

But a Sinn Féin representative in the staunchly Protestant town
claimed a loyalist crowd waved placards saying they were under
siege in front of those travelling to Crebilly graveyard.

Councillor Monica Digney said: "The so-called protestors then
surrounded and stoned two cars in Ballykeel en route to the
funeral of Michael McIlveen, and were heard to shout 'kill the

A Police Service of Northern Ireland spokesman said officers were
probing claims that a car had been hit in the Ballykeel district.

"We have no reports of any injuries or damage," he added.

Michael was beaten to death in a gang attack on May 7.

He was chased, cornered and battered with a baseball bat. Even
though he managed to stagger home, the St Patrick's High School
pupil was taken to the Antrim Area Hospital, where he died a day

Six teenagers have been charged with his murder and a seventh
accused of affray.

Earlier a priest told mourners a darkness had descended upon
Ballymena with the wanton murder of Michael.

Father Paul Symonds described the teenager as full of life,
looking forward to a career and playing his part in creating a
more harmonious, respectful society.

During his homily at the packed church, with hundreds of mourners
listening outside, he said: "In his short life Michael touched
many others – his family of course, but also his schoolmates and
his many friends, especially from the Ballyloughan Cross
Community Club.

"Michael loved Ballymena, and the society in which he mixed
embraced both the north and south of the town, both Catholic and
Protestant, supporters of Celtic and Rangers, as well as other

Father Symonds told how the McIlveen family had been deeply
touched by the wave of sympathy and compassion from Protestant
neighbours and church leaders, but urged against complacency.

"We must grasp this opportunity of a new beginning, aware that
cynical and negative voices will try to stifle the good that God
can bring from the evil of Michael's death."

Friends had crossed the religious divide to grieve together.

Amid scores of Glasgow Celtic football jerseys some youths came
to mourn wearing rival Rangers shirts.

All bore the same message on the back in tribute to the young
victim whose death has traumatised a town bedevilled by

"Micky Bo RIP" the tops said.

Tommy Nicholl, a member of the Reverend Ian Paisley's Democratic
Unionist Party and Mayor of Ballymena, said he was heartened by
the solidarity shown by a younger generation amid such tensions.

He said: "I would like to think it's the beginning of the healing
process. Ballymena certainly needs it.

"I would plead for people on both sides to draw back from the
brink and allow me to give leadership."

As well as Mr Nicholl, there in the absence of Mr Paisley – who
could not attend because of Westminster business but who visited
the McIlveens to express his sympathies as their MP – Sinn Fein's
chief negotiator Martin McGuinness and party colleague Philip
McGuigan MLA were at the funeral.

The nationalist SDLP Assembly member Sean Farren, Alliance Party
leader David Ford, and Ballymena's police commander, Chief
Superintendent Terry Shevlin also attended.

They watched with hundreds of mourners as the white coffin was
carried from Michael's home in the Dunvale estate to be taken to
All Saints Catholic Church.

The youngster's heartbroken mother, Gina, followed behind,
comforted by relatives.

The front garden of her terrace home had been taken over with
floral tributes and football shirts from those who had come to
pay their respects over the last 10 days.

:: Meanwhile the Parades Commission has welcomed a decision of
the Ballykeel Loyal Sons of Ulster Flute Band to re-route its
parade this Saturday night away from an area close to where the
teenage boy was attacked.

A spokesman for the Parades Commission said they had hoped the
organisers would voluntarily stay away from the contentious area.

He said: "It is entirely appropriate that local sensitivities and
evolving events are taken into account when parades are planned.
Hopefully, this move will set the tone for a calm and respectful
marching season in 2006."

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