‘Hurt, offended, disgusted’: DUP MLA bereaved during lockdown hits out over Storey funeral

Edwin Poots, who was forced to bury his father under intense lockdown restrictions, says the failure to prosecute even one person over the Bobby Storey funeral extravaganza has left him “hurt, offended, and disgusted”.

Wednesday, 31st March 2021, 8:00 am
Updated Thursday, 15th April 2021, 4:00 pm
A small group following the hearse ahead of Charlie Poots' burial
A small group following the hearse ahead of Charlie Poots' burial

Mr Poots’ 90-year-old father Charlie was one of the founding members of the DUP and was a councillor in Lisburn for two-and-a-half decades, but in accordance with the Covid rules his funeral last April was very sparsely attended.

By contrast, it is not known – even to the nearest hundred – how many thousands of people turned out for the funeral procession for IRA enforcer Mr Storey, who died about two months after Mr Poots.

Speaking yesterday, DUP MLA Edwin Poots (a former health minister who now holds the post of farming minister) summed up his feelings as follows: “Hurt. Offended. Disgusted.

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A small group following the hearse ahead of Charlie Poots' burial

“And I suspect that’s the feeling of many thousands of people across Northern Ireland who didn’t have the opportunity to pay their respects as they would otherwise to a very precious loved one.

“My father’s would have been a very large funeral, because he was very well-known in his own right.

“It actually hurt me afterwards that I wasn’t able to give him a funeral for people who wanted to come and show their respects.

“But there was a pandeic in the country, and we were respectful of that.

A small group following the hearse ahead of Charlie Poots' burial

“And yet there was no respect shown either to the pandemic or to anybody else who was going through the same pain – Sinn Fein, the republican movement, had to have their show of strength.”

He feared that the decision was influenced by politics, adding that it was “not the first time that the PPS has shown a degree of latitude with the leadership of Sinn Fein that the rest of the public don’t expect to get”.

He said this is “damaging” to the reputation of the PPS.

Prominent Presbyterian cleric Rev Mervyn Gibson, who ministers at Westbourne Presbyterian Church in inner-east Belfast, said he has handled several such scenarios where funerals have been held on a vastly smaller scale than the grieving families would have liked.

He said it smack of “double standards” that there are no consequences for anyone involved in the massive Storey funeral.

“I’ve dealt with several families who couldn’t go to the crematorium at all, they couldn’t get through the gates of Roselawn,” he told the News Letter.

“It was a very sad and difficult time for them, but they accepted it for the greater good of all. Now it just appears there’s one law for some, and not for others. A lot of people will be annoyed they weren’t able to say goodbye in a proper manner to their love ones, while others can do as they please with impunity.”

PPS sets out rationale for decision:

At the time the decision was taken not to prosecute, the PPS defended the move saying it was made “independently and impartially by a team of senior

prosecutors assisted by senior counsel” – and that the test for prosecution simply had not been met.

After the PPS’ decision prompted uproar, especially among unionists, the PPS issued a statement which said that “it is recognised that significant sacrifices and compromises have been made by many families in abiding by both the spirit and letter of the coronavirus regulations”.

It continued: “It is worth emphasising again that the lack of clarity and consistency within the regulations (as outlined in the PPS decision rationale) referred to the specific point in time of this particular funeral, and should not undermine the value the regulations have had overall in protecting public health or their enforceability at other times and in other circumstances.

“The Public Prosecution Service has now received a number of requests to review the decisions taken not to prosecute the 24 individuals reported by PSNI...

“In line with the procedure set out in the PPS Code for Prosecutors, this process will be carried out by a senior PPS lawyer who was not involved in taking the original decisions on this file. This lawyer will be assisted by obtaining the advice of Senior Counsel who is independent of the PPS and was also not in any way involved in the original decisions.

“We recognise that the prosecutorial decisions are one component part of more holistic concerns expressed recently, as is evident from media reporting and commentary.

For the sake of clarity, further enquiry around why the Regulations were amended in short succession before and after the funeral or the conduct of police in engaging with funeral organisers will largely be beyond the scope of any prosecutorial review, save for any bearing they have on whether or not the Test for Prosecution is considered to be met.”

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