Michelle O’Neill’s apology “falls short”, the North’s First Minster, Arlene Foster, has said:
Michelle O’Neill’s apology for hurt caused to grieving families by her presence at the funeral of Belfast republican Bobby Storey on Tuesday “falls short”, the North’s First Minster has said.
Arlene Foster said while it was “important” this hurt had been recognised, “regrettably the role of the Deputy First Minister in causing that hurt has not been acknowledged”.
“One of the things that struck me very strongly when I listened to Michelle give her statement today is there was no recognition of any wrongdoing, no recognition that there was a problem, no recognition that the credibility of the Executive has been damaged, and I think that’s wrong,” Ms Foster said.
Speaking at a press conference yesterday following a meeting of the Northern Executive’s five party leaders, Ms O’Neill said she was “very conscious of the fact that over the course of the past number of days that those [grieving] families would have felt even more hurt, and I’m sorry for that.”
But she said she was “confident I can stand over the fact that I worked within the guidelines,that I worked within the regulations in terms of attending a requiem Mass which was allowed, and also to walk in a funeral cortege of up to 30 people”.
‘Caused some hurt’
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald also apologised, telling Newstalk: “I do understand that looking at the images of very busy pathways in west Belfast, and taking all of that in obviously has jolted, and has caused some hurt among some of those families, and for that I am very sorry.”
Assistant Chief Constable
Alan Todd rejected comments by Ms McDonald on RTÉ radio that the police had played a role in the planning of the funeral. He said yesterday that the PSNI “were not involved in the planning of this funeral and did not approve any plan for the funeral”.
He said that, “in line with long established good practice and in common with many other circumstances”, the police had “engaged with the organisers on the basis of no promises and no surprises, in order that they understood their obligations and to seek assurances in respect of public safety”. All available evidence would be reviewed, he said. “Where there is any potential breach of the health protection regulations or breach of any other statute identified in respect of any individual, the matter will be referred to the PPS [Public Prosecution Service] for their consideration.”
Ms O’Neill and Ms McDonald were among of a large number of senior Sinn Féin figures who attended the funeral of the former IRA member in west Belfast on Tuesday. About 100 people, rather than the 10 permitted by the regulations, attended the funeral Mass inside St Agnes’ Church, though it is understood social distancing arrangements were put in place and mourners were spread three to a pew. Several thousand people gathered along the route of the cortège and hundreds of republicans, each standing at a distance from each other, formed a guard of honour. About 30 mourners walked behind the cortege, in apparent accordance with the regulations permitting a maximum of 30 people to meet outdoors.
Questions have also been raised over social distancing at the ceremony which took place at the republican plot at Milltown Cemetery following the funeral and whether it breached the regulations regarding unnecessary journeys.
Yesterday, Ms Foster and Ms O’Neill met the leaders of the five parties in the Executive, where the other parties expressed their concerns in a “robust” manner.
First Minister Arlene Foster: “no recognition of any wrongdoing” by Michelle O’Neill