The Irish Times view on the Bobby Storey funeral: no less wrong

To any reasonable observer, the event attended by senior Sinn Féin politicians was a flagrant and egregious breach of the spirit – at the very least – of the rules

The anger and tensions caused by the large Republican attendance at the funeral of IRA leader Bobby Storey in Belfast last June have never quite gone away. That much has been clear from the furore caused by the decision of the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) in Northern Ireland not to prosecute 24 Sinn Féin politicians for allegedly breaching Covid-19 regulations at the event.

In his decision, director of public prosecutions Stephen Herron concluded there was no reasonable prospect of convictions given that each of the individuals could point to a lack of clarity and coherence around conflicting and changing regulations in force at the time of the June 30th funeral, and because there had been prior engagement with the police in advance of the event.

Although the PPS has said it will review the decision, its substantive conclusion is unlikely to change. But that does not make the attendance of senior Sinn Féin figures at the funeral any lesswrong. Deputy first minister Michelle O'Neill was among those interviewed by police, while party leader Mary Lou McDonald and former leader Gerry Adams were also in attendance. To any reasonable observer, the event was a flagrant and egregious breach of the spirit – at the very least – of the rules. The message was clear: there is one rule for Sinn Féin and another rule for everyone else. To make matters worse, only in September, at the quite reasonable insistence of First Minister Arlene Foster, did O'Neill bring herself to express "regret" – though only for the consequences of her actions, not the actions themselves.

The political fallout has been swift. The Assembly was recalled yesterday to debate an SDLP motion of censure against Sinn Féin. That's the least Sinn Féin should face. At the same time, while frustration at the PPS decision is understandable, it's important that the independence of that office be respected. It's unfortunate therefore that Foster has called for Herron – as well as PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne – to resign, as if the role of the prosecution service is to take the decisions political leaders want or else face punishment.