By Lindsay Fergus
Belfast Telegraph
Saturday, 26 May 2012

Education Minister John O’Dowd is facing unionist fury after he accompanied a convicted double police killer to a funeral.

The Sinn Fein minister yesterday collected Martin Corey from Maghaberry prison, where he is being held alongside the killers of Constable Stephen Carroll, to escort him to his brother’s funeral.

Corey was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1973 for the murders of Constables Raymond Wylie and Ronald MacAuley, who were gunned down in an IRA ambush at Aghagallon, near Lurgan. Although released in 1992 his licence was revoked by the Secretary of State in April 2010 after he was deemed a security risk.

Mr O’Dowd was on official business visiting a school in the north west before he was driven in his ministerial car to Maghaberry prison shortly before lunch.

The Education Minister and Corey were then driven in Sinn Fein MLA Raymond McCartney’s car to the funeral mass.

Ulster Unionist justice spokesman Tom Elliott described Mr O’Dowd’s action as “shameful”.

“Their condemnation of so-called dissident republicans as ‘traitors to Ireland’ when they seek to murder or maim police officers rings somewhat hollow when you see two senior Sinn Fein MLAs driving a man who was convicted of killing police officers to a family funeral,” he said.

“This is a shameful episode, especially coming in the very week when there has been so much attention focused on the sentencing of the murderers of Constable Stephen Carroll.”

TUV leader Jim Allister also criticised Mr O’Dowd for accompanying Corey to the funeral saying it showed the “pan republican nexus” between Sinn Fein and dissident republicans.

“When it suits, Sinn Fein denounces dissidents as ‘traitors’ yet campaigns for their prisoners and today provides an official escort,” he said.

However, the Education Minister, defending his decision, said: “This was a humanitarian gesture from the justice minister to a man who had lost his brother.

“I went along as an MLA, I offered reassurance to the justice minister that Martin would adhere to the conditions of his humanitarian parole, Martin did adhere to those conditions and Martin has now returned to jail.”

A Sinn Fein party spokesman went even further stating: “We are very happy that we were able to facilitate and secure Martin’s ability to attend his brother’s funeral. We have nothing to apologise for, and we are not embarrassed.”

The Education Minister had previously impressed unionist politicians with his efforts to build relations and move towards a shared education system.

However, doubts have now been expressed about whether or not he will succeed after being accused of trying to alienate unionists.

DUP chairman of the education committee Mervyn Storey said: “This is an ill-advised decision and inappropriate step by the minister.

“In Northern Ireland we need to be building relationships however this move will only serve to cause division rather than healing.

“This individual was convicted of heinous crimes and quite rightly is in prison serving his full term. Many parents will understandably be horrified by Mr O’Dowd’s actions.”

Those sentiments were echoed by UUP MLA Basil McCrea who accused Mr O’Dowd of living in “la la land”.

Alliance education spokesman, Trevor Lunn, added: “In his role as a Government Minister he has responsibilities on his shoulders. This may have been unwise and it shows poor judgment.”

Story so far

Martin Joseph Corey was 23 when he was convicted of the murders of Constables Raymond Wylie (25) and Ronald MacAuley (44). The officers were ambushed by the IRA at Aghagallon near Lurgan on February 27, 1973. They were both posthumously awarded the Queen’s Police Medal for gallantry. Corey was one of 320 former IRA and INLA prisoners who in 2007 called for prisoners to vote against Sinn Fein. They referred to themselves as Irish republican ex-prisoners of war against the RUC/PSNI and M15.