Michelle O'Neill said the criticisms towards her are "political points scored"
Attendees at the funeral for former IRA member Bobby Storey in west Belfast on Tuesday are facing criticism for an apparent breach of social distancing guidelines.
According to The Irish Times: "Several thousand people gathered along the route of the cortège and hundreds of republicans, each standing at a distance from each other, formed a guard of honour.
"About 30 people were allowed to walk behind the hearse in an attempt to follow coronavirus regulations. Under the current rules, a maximum of 30 people are allowed to meet outdoors.
"It is also understood social distancing arrangements were put in place inside the church, with mourners spread three to a pew, but more mourners were in attendance on Tuesday than were permitted under the regulations in force."
A contingent of Sinn Féin members was also in attendance at the funeral including former president Gerry Adams, current president Mary Lou McDonald, current vice president Michelle O’Neill, finance spokesman Pearse Doherty, and MLAs Conor Murphy, Gerry Kelly, and MEP Martina Anderson.
Sinn Féin shared this video the day after the funeral:
Michelle O’Neill, who is also the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, spoke at the funeral:
We bid farewell to a friend, comrade & giant of the Republican struggle
Bobby Storey was a lifelong republican activist, former IRA prisoner, escapee & longstanding Sinn Féin member
I am honoured to call Bobby my friend & comrade
For Bobby, ‘The Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost pic.twitter.com/cynvvACsY7— Michelle O’Neill (@moneillsf) June 30, 2020
On Wednesday, O'Neill's attendance at Storey's funeral was discussed during the Committee for the Executive Office Meeting.
Speaking at the meeting, Arlene Foster, the First Minister of Northern Ireland and a member of the DUP, said: “We’re supposed to be talking about the COVID-19 regulations and how they have impacted on the people of Northern Ireland and how we need to make sure that we give clear messages out as an Executive in relation to making sure that they are followed.
“I think the credibility of that message has been severely damaged as a result of what happened yesterday. There are many, many ways in which people can pay their respects.”
She continued: “Our message has been damaged as a result of what happened yesterday, but I hope that people will look at it and say 'two wrongs don’t make a right,' and there’s a need to continue to keep looking after ourselves, making sure that we comply with the regulations, and making sure that we comply with the guidance from a public health point of view.”
Foster additionally told BBC: “There has to be a recognition that there was a wrongdoing yesterday. When that recognition, comes forward, then there needs to be an apology. Then, of course, she [O’Neill] needs to reflect on what else she can do to make amends for that.”
During the meeting on Wednesday, O'Neill said; “I’m very satisfied that I can stand over all of my actions as per the public health guidance and advice.
“I think it’s unfortunate - I do think it’s unfortunate - that a lot of the charges that are being leveled towards me are political points scored as opposed to actually being about the rules.”
I am satisfied that my actions at Bobby Storey’s funeral are in line with public health advice
These petty attempts to political point score must end and the Storey family giving space to grieve
My thoughts are with Bobby’s much loved partner Teresa and the Storey family today pic.twitter.com/CQ445OBPjQ— Michelle O’Neill (@moneillsf) July 1, 2020
Addressing a photograph that circulated after the funeral that showed O’Neill with a man who placed his arm around her shoulder, O’Neill acknowledged that “shouldn’t have happened.
“But everything else, as I said, was done as per, what was in our control was done within the public health guidance.”
On Twitter, some pointed out that the recent funeral for Garda Colm Horkan was not subject to the same kind of criticism:
The irish media are now going to be responsible for dragging the funerals of Det Gda Gerry Horkan and Bobby Storey through an episode of us vs them for pure political gain. Shame on them. pic.twitter.com/OqDo4mHR5L— Michael Doyle (@Mdoyledeise) July 1, 2020
Media have along history of bias and framing the news in such a way as to attack Sinn Féin/republicans. This example of how 1 publication covered large crowds attending a funeral of Garda Horkan vs the funeral of Bobby Storey. Nothing cheaper than using funerals to point score pic.twitter.com/n1OxMWDf6T— Seadhna Logan (@Seadhnalogan) July 1, 2020
Pictured below are 1.The funeral cortage of Bobby Storey 2. the funeral of Garda Colm Horkan& 3. One of the recent vigils held for young Noah Donahue.— aidan bradley (@aidso67) July 1, 2020
Each of these events were attended by hundreds of people wanting to show their respect.
There was only an outcry over one of them pic.twitter.com/s5lLx4ogZT
The relentless comparisons all day of the funerals of Garda Horkan and the funeral of Bobby Storey hardly respectful to two grieving families Politicians and Journalists doing themselves no favours.— Joe Seward (@JoeSeward1) July 1, 2020
Really cheap rhetoric using funerals to score populist points #FuneralBelfast pic.twitter.com/4tM8aKJWDy
Regarding Storey's funeral, PSNI Superintendent Melanie Jones said: "We had assurances that those attending would observe the health guidelines and that marshals would be in place to encourage those lining the cortege route to observe social distancing.
"We will now review footage gathered during the funeral and will consider and suspected breaches of the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) Regulations NI 2020."