Page last updated at 01:31 GMT, Thursday, 18 May 2006 02:31 UK

'Sectarianism' victim is buried

Friends of Michael McIlveen carry his coffin
Boys wearing Celtic and Rangers shirts helped carry the coffin

Murdered teenager Michael McIlveen was killed by people who grew up in "an atmosphere polluted by sectarian hatred", a Catholic bishop has said.

Speaking at the 15-year-old's funeral Mass, Bishop of Down and Connor Patrick Walsh said the schoolboy would never be forgotten by his family and friends.

More than 1,000 people attended the funeral at All Saints Church in Michael's home town of Ballymena.

Six teenagers have been charged in connection with his death.

The Catholic teenager died last Monday, the day after being attacked by a gang.

Pupils from his school, St Patrick's College, formed a guard of honour.

Representatives from the main political parties also attended Michael's funeral.

His mother Gina and other family members helped carry his coffin to the church.

'Ultimate depravity'

The cortege was followed by dozens of teenagers in Celtic and Rangers football jerseys in a show of cross-community unity.

Michael's mother Gina carrying his coffin
Michael's mother Gina carried his coffin

Bishop Walsh told mourners it was important "disparate voices must now become a united voice".

"There must be a united voice, a united voice which does not stop short with condemnation of murder, which is, of course, the ultimate depravity, but a united voice which must be heard on issues of justice, equality, rights issues... the concern of the entire community."

In his homily, Fr Paul Symonds said Michael's killing had been "the wanton murder of a 15-year-old lad, full of life, looking forward to a career".

"Michael will not have died in vain if his death leads to a new vision for Ballymena, indeed for the whole of Northern Ireland," he said.

"Even in the past week, there have been signs of new relationships, dialogue between those who formerly would not speak to each other, a reaching out in love across the divide."

Even in the past week, there have been signs of new relationships, dialogue between those who formerly would not speak to each other, a reaching out in love across the divide
Father Paul Symonds

Prime Minister Tony Blair said that what "the appalling murder represents is hopefully in the past".

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Blair said: "The best and most significant thing that could be done to demonstrate that people are working across the communities is if we could get devolved government back up and working again in Northern Ireland with everybody committed to exclusively peaceful and democratic means."

North Antrim MP, DUP leader Ian Paisley, visited the family on Sunday and prayed with them. He was represented at the funeral by DUP Mayor of Ballymena Tommy Nicholl.

'Revulsion'

Mr Nicholl appealed to people to fall behind him "on the road to a healing process".

"I wanted to show the revulsion that is shown throughout the entire Ballymena community, from both sections, about what has happened," he said.

Mr Nicholl said he was attending with the blessing of Mr Paisley, who is at a debate in the House of Commons.

Meanwhile police have issued an appeal for calm, "at this sensitive time for the McIlveen family", following reports that a loyalist mob threw a stone at a car en route to the funeral.

A PSNI spokesperson there were no reports of any injuries or damage.

"We want to hear from anyone who witnessed the incident," the spokesperson said.

"We have extra resources in Ballymena at present and will deal robustly with any offences."



SEE ALSO
Reprisal fears over boy's murder
16 May 06 |  Northern Ireland
Hundreds mourn murdered schoolboy
15 May 06 |  Northern Ireland

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