Officer from outside North to lead inquiry into Bobby Storey funeral

Assembly calls on Michelle O’Neill to apologise over breaches of Covid-19 regulations

 Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, former Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill at the funeral of senior Irish Republican and former leading IRA figure Bobby Storey in west Belfast on June 30th. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, former Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill at the funeral of senior Irish Republican and former leading IRA figure Bobby Storey in west Belfast on June 30th. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

 

The North’s Chief Constable has requested the appointment of a senior police officer from outside Northern Ireland to lead the police investigation into potential breaches of the coronavirus regulations at the funeral of senior Belfast republican Bobby Storey.

Simon Byrne said he had taken the decision to “ensure independent oversight of the investigation.”

He also said the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) had received a complaint from a member of the public about the police’s actions leading up to the funeral on June 30th.

“This has now been forwarded to the Police Ombudsman for her consideration,” he said.

The attendance of the North’s deputy first minister, Michelle O’Neill, and other senior members of Sinn Féin at a funeral which appeared to break both the coronavirus regulations and social distancing guidelines prompted the most significant fall-out in the Northern Executive since the restoration of the Assembly in January, as well as questions over the actions of other bodies.

Belfast City Council offered on Thursday to refund the cremation fee to eight families who were not allowed to attend a committal service for their loved ones on the same day as the funeral of the former IRA member.

Memorial service

It has also offered to help facilitate a memorial service for the families’ loved ones.

The council previously apologised for an “error of judgement” after Mr Storey’s was the only one of nine committal services which took place following cremations at Roselawn Cemetery on June 30th where family were allowed to be present.

In a statement the council said it recognised that this was “an extremely sensitive and difficult time for any family who is grieving, and we are deeply sorry for how this error will have affected these eight families.”

Councillors in Belfast will debate a motion on Friday calling for an independent investigation into what happened at Roselawn Cemetery on June 30th.

The special council meeting, which was called by the DUP, will consider the events at the cemetery and crematorium and will discuss “the steps which should now be taken.”

Joint media briefings by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, which became an almost daily occurrence during the coronavirus pandemic, have been suspended since June 30th.

‘Credibility’

Asked at a press conference on Thursday when joint media briefings would resume, Arlene Foster said there had to be “a recognition that the credibility of messaging was damaged by what happened last week”.

“I hope that we can build that credibility up again but there has to be a willingness to acknowledge that it was damaged during what happened in west Belfast last Tuesday [June 30th].”

Earlier this week the North’s Assembly passed a motion signed by the four other parties in the Executive calling on Ms O’Neill and the Minister for Finance, Conor Murphy, to apologise for their actions at the funeral.

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 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 cortege, and at the cemetery in Milltown where I paid my respects”.