Sinn Féin accused of ‘actively’ encouraging members to attend Storey funeral

Email proves party was ‘prepared to flout’ Covid-19 regulations, DUP MLA claims

(left to right) Sinn Féin president  Mary Lou McDonald, former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill among mourners at  the funeral of  former leading IRA figure Bobby Storey in west Belfast in June 30th.  Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

(left to right) Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald, former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill among mourners at the funeral of former leading IRA figure Bobby Storey in west Belfast in June 30th. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

 

A DUP Assembly member has accused Sinn Féin of “actively” encouraging supporters to breach Covid-19 regulations ahead of the funeral of senior republican Bobby Storey.

South Belfast MLA Christopher Stalford said a report that Sinn Féin emailed thousands of members in June to say that Storey’s wake was “open to the public” showed the party was promoting it as a “public event”.

Mr Stalford was responding to a Sunday Independent report that Sinn Féin party headquarters sent an email to thousands of members stating that the wake in west Belfast “will be open to the public from 10 am on Saturday and Sunday, the 27th and 28th and from 10 am to 6 pm on Monday, 29th June”.

The email also advised members that following the funeral Mass in St Agnes’s Church in Andersonstown in west Belfast on June 30th, the cortege would make its way “to the republican plot at Milltown Cemetery for a short ceremony including an oration by Bobby’s friend and comrade and iar-Uachtarán Shinn Féin Gerry Adams”.

Other senior Sinn Féin members who attended the funeral include party president Mary Lou McDonald, Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and financeminister Conor Murphy.

Police inquiry

The attendance of thousands of people along the route of the funeral and for the oration in the cemetery prompted both a political row and a PSNI inquiry into whether Sinn Féin breached coronavirus regulations.

Sinn Féin has said the email was sent out for “information purposes only”. It said it was followed by another email that “highlighted that the funeral proceedings would be live streamed on Sinn Féin’s social media accounts, which was watched by almost 250,000 people”.

Mr Stalford said the email confirmed “what everyone already knew”.

“People did not come onto the streets of Belfast during the height of the first Covid wave of their own volition. People were actively encouraged to breach health regulations by Sinn Fein, ” he said. “Not only were they prepared to flout regulations and damage the public health message, but to put their own members and supporters at risk.”

As the PSNI inquiry continues into the matter, he added that “people must see a demonstration that the law applies equally to everyone in our society regardless of their status or political affiliation”.

Fine Gael Senator Emer Currie said the email showed “that this was not a spontaneous event or a momentary lapse of judgment by the political figures in attendance.

“Not only did they damage public health messaging at a crucial time, they also damaged relationships across communities in the North who needed to come together to fight the pandemic,” she said.