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An Election, a Funeral; Ulster is Politics as Usual

May 17, 1989

KILKEEL, Northern Ireland (AP) _ Another election, another funeral.

While the populace trudged to the polls to elect its local officials on Wednesday, the people of Kilkeel buried Malachy Trainor, a carpenter, Roman Catholic and latest victim of Protestant gunmen.

Both events had an air of bleak inevitability. The election, said the pundits, would change very little. And Trainor, said his bishop, was the 34th victim of sectarianism he has buried in his diocese since 1982.

Trainor, 34, was doing a building job in a Protestant area of Belfast on Monday when his killers got out of a car and opened fire.

An outlawed Protestant organization, the Ulster Volunteer Force, said he was active in the Irish Republican Army. His family strongly denied it.

″The fact that the local police identified his murder as nakedly sectarian shows that his only crime was to be a Catholic,″ Bishop Cahal Daly said at the funeral.

In Kilkeel, Trainor’s home town of 6,500 in the southeast of the province, the church was packed. Bright sunshine turned the graveyard grass an almost incandescent green. The Mourne Mountains towered above, their foothills streaked with yellow gorse.

Daly, wan and stooped, delivered a sermon in which he called once more for an end to ″the creeping oil slick of sectarianism.″

Daly said he could understand the Protestants’ fear of the IRA, but pleaded with them to believe that the Roman Catholic Church had no part in the IRA campaign to rid Northern Ireland of British rule.

At the same time, he ascribed Protestant sectarianism to ″plain, old- fashioned, unreconstructed anti-Roman Catholic bigotry, based on outmoded theologies long since left far behind by world Protestantism.″

It was a message he has delivered many times, and he knew there were those to whom Malachy Trainor was already just ″another statistic - today’s news, forgotten next week″ in a cycle of conflict nearing its 20th anniversary with more than 2,700 deaths.

″But that is not true,″ the 71-year-old bishop thundered. ″One never gets used to this sort of death.″

After the service, weeping pallbearers carried Trainor into the churchyard. A church bell tolled. Trainor’s widow, Rosetta, sobbed behind the coffin, her face crushed with despair, her aged father on her arm.

Trainor had three children, and was about to finish the new family home he had built himself.

Meanwhile, the people of Northern Ireland got on with their election, trickling to polling stations to elect 566 councilors to Northern Ireland’s 26 local governments.

Elections in Northern Ireland rarely amount to more than sectarian head- counts. The overwhelming majority on both sides of the divide vote for the parties of their religious persuasion, which then wage wars of words in the council chambers.

Protestants outnumber Catholics 3-2 in Northern Ireland, and will take the majority of the seats. So what matters is the intra-community vote: whether the IRA’s political wing, Sinn Fein, will gain or lose against the more moderate Catholics of the Social Democratic and Labor Party; and whether, on the Protestant side, the larger Ulster Unionist Party will stay ahead of the hard-line Democratic Unionist Party.

To the Irish Times in Dublin, atrocities like Trainor’s murder, or the IRA bomb attached to a Belfast lamppost that injured a 3-year-old girl in the foot Tuesday night, were ″a reminder to the people of the North of the price they pay for political failure.″

Outside a polling station in Kilkeel, the SDLP and Ulster Unionists had parked rival caravans festooned with election posters.

At the Unionists caravan, Billy Russell spoke in resigned tones about Trainor’s murder - ″everybody’s disgusted″ - but was quick to point out that 11 Protestants have also been murdered in the district.

Next door, the SDLP’s Eddie McGrady conceded the difficulty of playing politics in a battlefield.

″I get depressed twice a day,″ he said. ″But you have to keep going, or else. If the moderates don’t keep going, he hands over the center ground to the extremists.″