Fu­neral row:

Michelle O’Neill’s apol­ogy “falls short”, the North’s First Min­ster, Ar­lene Fos­ter, has said:

The Irish Times - - Front Page - FREYA McCLEMENTS North­ern Cor­re­spon­dent

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.”

So­cial dis­tanc­ing

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

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