The PSNI is investigating how in the context of coronavirus a relatively large crowd attended the funeral of a former Sinn Féin councillor in Co Tyrone.
Politicians including Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill criticised how the funeral rules appeared to have been broken at the funeral of former Sinn Féin representative Francie McNally on Wednesday.
District Commander Superintendent Mike Baird said on Thursday that people had "blatantly ignored" the social distancing and crowd rules for funerals at the interment of Mr McNally from Ballinderry in Mid Ulster.
A crowd of mourners estimated at around 200 attended the funeral in which Mr McNally’s coffin was brought to the cemetery in a horse-drawn hearse.
The cortege was led by a piper while the hearse was flanked by a guard of honour of people wearing white shirts, black ties and dark trousers.
The parish priest of St Patrick's, Ballinderry Fr Peter Donnelly stressed that the proper Covid-19 protocols were observed within the church grounds. There was no funeral Mass and attendance at the burial was limited to 10 immediate members of Mr McNally's family.
Mr McNally was a popular former local representative who also ran a pub, McNally’s Inn near Toomebridge.
Supt Baird said the McNally family had assured police that only family members would be in attendance and that local people could “pay their respects as the funeral cortege passed, by coming out into their gardens or the front of their homes”.
The officer said he understood “that when a loved one dies it is a very traumatic and sad time, and that a funeral is part of the grieving process”.
He added however, “It is very disappointing to see some people blatantly ignored health advice and breached current legislation by attending the funeral and, in doing so, they not only put themselves at risk but also put at risk close family members of the deceased and those officiating at the funeral.”
Supt Baird said an investigation is underway, evidence is being gathered and a file is being prepared for submission to the Public Prosecution Service for any breaches of Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) Regulations NI 2020.
At the regular Stormont evening press conference on Thursday Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Ms O'Neill said obviously it was a difficult time for any families that lost loved ones but that "no one is exempt" from social distancing rules.
“The rules are there for a reason. Everyone needs to follow the rules,” she said. “We are all being asked to do difficult things right now; we are being asked to do them to save lives”.
First Minister Arlene Foster said to lose a loved one in circumstances where people could not join the bereaved in solidarity was very difficult. She said, "So it is wrong for others to breach that rule because others who have lost loved ones will look at that and say, 'Well we stuck to the rules even though it was incredibly difficult'."
PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne, who also attended the press conference, said he did not want to comment on a live investigation but it was wrong for anyone to ignore guidelines and act in a "selfish way".