Two police men’s caskets draped with Union Jacks. Two widows, embracing tearful and bewildered young children. Two angry sermons asking the same question: Why?
Constables John Graham, 34, and David Johnston, 30, were buried Wednesday, two days after Irish Republican Army gunmen sneaked up behind them in the town of Lurgan and shot both through the back of the head.
The slayings - the first of local pro-British Protestants since the IRA resumed hostilities against British rule 16 months ago - had mourners at separate Presbyterian and Baptist ceremonies asking whether there was any point now talking to the Catholic supporters of the IRA.
In London, Prime Minister Tony Blair told lawmakers he was sure the IRA killed the two men “quite deliberately to frustrate” his new government’s efforts to promote compromise in negotiations on Northern Ireland’s future.
The IRA-allied Sinn Fein party has been barred from those yearlong talks among nine other parties because of the IRA’s decision to abandon its 1994 cease-fire.
Pastor Edward Betts addressed hundreds of mourners at the rural Tandragee Baptist Church, 40 miles southwest of Belfast, where Graham’s casket was brought in on the shoulders of six uniformed officers. Police commander Ronnie Flanagan walked behind them.
But Betts’ words were for the IRA.
“I feel like leaving my pulpit this afternoon and going myself to seek you out. To bring you in by the scruff of the neck. To a young family who sits before me,” he said slowly, nodding to Graham’s widow Rosemary and their two oldest daughters, Rebecca, 10, and Abigail, 7.
“Maybe you men, you evil men, have a family of your own. How would you like it, if it happened to you?” he asked.
Among the wreaths laid outside the church was one with a note that said, “To the best dad in the world. Rebecca.”
Earlier, more than 1,000 mourners overflowed St. Columba’s Presbyterian Church in Lisburn, a Belfast suburb, to hear Northern Ireland’s top Protestant church official question the logic of courting Sinn Fein.
“These killings were a slap in the face, for so many people of goodwill, who were trying to promote understanding and take risks for peace,” said the Rev. Sam Hutchinson.
“The time has now come to face reality,” he said in a comment directed at the British and Irish governments, which broke off contacts with Sinn Fein after Monday’s killings. “You have spent time and effort trying to bring the extremists in from the cold. Some had hopes and dreams of what might be. In the cold light of this sad morning, those dreams lie shattered.”
Johnston’s widow, Angela, held tightly onto their 3-year-old son Joshua, who waved and smiled. Today would have been the 10th wedding anniversary for the couple, who had just moved into a new home.
Johnston was buried in a local cemetery. Graham was buried near Boa Island on the shore of Lough Erne, in Northern Ireland’s southwest lakelands, where he had spent a final weekend fishing with fellow officers.
They were the 300th and 301st police officers to be killed since 1970, when the IRA launched its campaign to end British rule in this predominantly Protestant state.
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