US politician with local links criticised for praising former IRA leader

Congressman Richard E. Neal.  Photo by M T Hurson, Harrisons
Congressman Richard E. Neal. Photo by M T Hurson, Harrisons

An American congressman who has family in Banbridge has been defended for praising Martin McGuinness during a church service in Washington DC.

A spokesman for Richard Neal, a Democratic Party congressional representative based in Massachusetts, issued a statement in response to criticism of a eulogy which the politician delivered at a memorial mass on Tuesday.

The eulogy was filled with tributes to Mr McGuinness’ qualities, but did not refer to the IRA at all, or make mention of the republican leader’s involvement in the Troubles – other than as a “peacemaker” who helped bring them to an end.

The sister of an IRA murder victim said the eulogy amounted to “myth-making” and showed a “total lack of acknowledgment of the reality of what was going on here”.

Her criticisms were put to Mr Neal’s office, and a spokesman, William Tranghese, responded with this statement: “Congressman Neal has been a leader in the effort to bring peace and reconciliation to the island of Ireland for more than three decades.

“He is a supporter of the Good Friday Agreement, a strong advocate of the power sharing government, and has always opposed violence.

“As a senior member of the United States Congress, he has worked closely with the leaders of every political party in the jurisdiction to help secure a shared and more prosperous future for the people of the North.

“With family still in Banbridge, he is especially proud of his Irish roots.

“Congressman Neal was pleased to join President Clinton, Prime Minister Tony Blair and members of the Paisley family in recognizing the contribution Martin McGuinness made to the peace process.

“He has always believed the only way a lasting peace can be achieved is if people of goodwill continue to work together.”