Councillor who lost infant son wants children’s funeral fees waived

Julie Flaherty and her husband Wayne with their son Jake
Julie Flaherty and her husband Wayne with their son Jake

A councillor who lost her only son is campaigning for children’s funeral fees to be scrapped in Northern Ireland.

Ulster Unionist Julie Flaherty –whose two-year-old son Jake passed away in 2013 – is seeking to have the Children’s Funeral Fund, under which parents will no longer have to meet the costs of burials or cremations, introduced in the Province.

The funding scheme, which was launched by Prime Minister Theresa May in England at the start of this month, sees burial fees waived by all local authorities and met instead by government funding.

Mrs Flaherty said that while she wanted the funding scheme extended to NI, she acknowledged that without a functioning government, it would “likely not happen any time soon”.

However, the Portadown woman told the News Letter she was seeking to “get the ball rolling” by making a realistic proposal that could be built upon.

To that end, she proposed that Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council should “set the marker” for other councils in Northern Ireland by waiving the cost of opening a grave only for those under the age of 18.

She described the move as “a gesture of goodwill at a difficult time in any parents’ lives”.

Mrs Flaherty said: “It’s a small but important start.

“Last year in our borough, 12 children under 18 were buried in our council-managed cemeteries and those grieving parents can face hundreds of pounds in council fees for burial or cremation costs.

“I have been in the unenviable position of losing a child and I know exactly what they face. I know from bitter experience of the pain of loss and any gesture from those in authority, no matter how small, is greatly appreciated.”

Under the proposal, the cost of opening a grave in ABC Council – which is currently £52 – would be borne by the local authority.

“I don’t believe this is too high a price to pay,” she added.

Mrs Flaherty hopes the move will be the first of many that will offer financial support to grieving parents across Northern Ireland.

“I have spoken to UUP colleagues and hope to bring forward similar motions in other council areas,” she added.

The proposal, brought before the council’s latest environmental services committee, received cross-party support. The decision is subject to ratification at the next full meeting of the council.

Mrs Flaherty also intends to write to the head of the NI Civil Service and the PM to lobby for the Children’s Funeral Fund to be made available in the Province.