Council apologises to families not able to attend cremations on day of Storey service

Chief of Belfast City Council apologises for ‘unacceptable’ events

(left to right) Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill attending the funeral of senior Irish Republican and former leading IRA figure Bobby Storey in west Belfast. File photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

(left to right) Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill attending the funeral of senior Irish Republican and former leading IRA figure Bobby Storey in west Belfast. File photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

 

The chief executive of Belfast City Council has personally apologised to families who were not allowed to attend cremations on the same day a service was permitted for the senior Belfast republican Bobby Storey.

In a joint statement issued on Wednesday, Suzanne Wylie and another senior council official, Nigel Grimshaw, said they would like to “reiterate our sincerest apologies to those families who were affected by events on the 30th June at Roselawn [cemetery].

“We recognise that this is unacceptable, and we apologise to those families wholeheartedly and unreservedly,” they said.

Belfast City Council said sorry earlier this week for an “error of judgement” after Mr Storey’s was the only one of nine committal services which took place following cremations at Roselawn on June 30th where family were allowed to be present.

Ms Wylie and Mr Grimshaw said a report was being prepared for the Council which would “clarify the sequence of events that took place, and what measures the Council will take to ensure that a situation like this does not happen again.”

They said recent months had presented “enormous challenges” in terms of coronavirus, including “the constant change in guidance and legislation”, but they prided themselves in “maintaining the integrity of the Council in what is at times, a very difficult environment.

“We and all chief officers have always done our utmost to serve all eight political parties in this Council and do our best to serve this city.

“We are concerned about certain statements and comments that have been made, and the impact these may have on our roles in Belfast City Council,” they said, and added that they would formally raise these issues with party leaders and the chair of the relevant committee.

The Deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill, and other members of Sinn Féin have faced widespread criticism for their actions at the funeral of the former IRA member, which appeared to break both the coronavirus regulations and social-distancing guidelines.

On Tuesday evening the North’s Assembly passed a motion brought by the DUP, SDLP, Alliance and the Ulster Unionist Party expressing their disappointment and calling on Ms O’Neill and the finance minister, Conor Murphy, to apologise.

During the debate Ms O’Neill repeated her apology to grieving families, saying that they had been “really, really hurt, and I’m sorry that’s the case,” but said she was “satisfied that I did act responsibly within the church as part of a limited group of no more than 30 people as part of the cortège, and at the cemetery in Milltown where I paid my respects.

The DUP MLA Christopher Stalford said Ms O’Neill had written the regulations and “knows both the letter and spirit of those regulations”, and her credibility was “shot to bits”.

He said Ms O’Neill had been “zealous” in instructing others to follow the coronavirus regulations and guidelines. “That’s what really sticks in people’s craw. That is what is at the core of this issue. Do as I say, not as I do.”