Sinn Fein criticised for virus risks at ex-IRA prisoner's funeral

Padraic Halpin
FILE PHOTO: Northern Chairman Bobby Storey attends a press conference held in the Roddy McCorley social club in West Belfast, Northern Ireland

By Padraic Halpin

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Northern Ireland's first minister called on her deputy to apologise for undermining coronavirus restrictions at the funeral of a member of her Sinn Fein party and ex-Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner that attracted large crowds.

The British region's devolved executive, led by Sinn Fein and its rival Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), allowed up to 30 people at funerals from Monday, including some friends but only when no household or family members of the deceased were there.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill of Sinn Fein, party president Mary Lou McDonald, former party leader Gerry Adams, and the party's deputy in the Irish republic Pearse Doherty, were all at Tuesday's funeral in Belfast for Bobby Storey.

Images from the funeral show Storey's relatives present and large numbers of mourners on streets nearby.

"It is quite intolerable now that people think that there are some people to whom the law doesn't apply and that indeed there are some politicians who are saying: 'Do as I say but not as I do'," First Minister Arlene Foster told BBC Radio Ulster.

"She needs to apologise, she needs to recognise the wrong that has been done and also absolutely needs to make amends."

Northern Ireland's power-sharing government was restored in January after a three-year standoff between Sinn Fein and the DUP that threatened part of a 1998 peace pact.

Doherty told Irish national broadcaster RTE that thousands lined the streets after the church service, but that the cortege was limited to 30 and others were urged to keep distance.

While the presence of crowds was "obviously of a concern", Doherty added that he would not recommend anyone to self-isolate just as he would not encourage people who went to the supermarket to quarantine.

Other parties, north and south of the Irish border, joined the criticism.

"Many families have endured burying a loved one alone, to help save lives. When those who make the rules, break the rules, it is more hurtful still," tweeted Northern Ireland Justice Minister Naomi Long of the Alliance Party.


(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)