Naomi Long: No new Bobby Storey funeral probe

The justice minister Naomi Long has said she sees no merit in the idea of appointing a judge to lead a fresh inquiry into the Bobby Storey funeral controversy.

Monday, 24th May 2021, 8:05 pm
Updated Tuesday, 25th May 2021, 4:37 pm

She told MLAs that she is concerned not only about the feelings of loved ones forced to hold muted funerals during lockdown, but also about Mr Storey’s own grieving family.

She was speaking in the wake of calls for a new probe into the feared IRA enforcer’s huge public send-off last June 30, after questions were raised about the thoroughness of the latest report into the affair, carried out by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and published last week.

That report basically absolved the PSNI of any serious wrongdoing.

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John O'Dowd, Naomi Long, William Humphrey

This was despite the fact that it also found Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly had forewarned that crowd numbers could hit 10,000, and that officers tasked with gathering evidence of possible Covid breaches on the day were so distant from the mourners that their footage was useless.

In addition, whilst the report spoke of an “events company” managing the crowds of mourners, doubt has been cast over the existence of any such firm.

In the Assembly today, DUP MLA William Humphrey told Mrs Long that the HMIC report had “not provided the clarity and certainty the general public requires”.

He added: “Does the minister believe an independent inquiry – a judge-led independent inquiry – would be both helpful and provide that clarification and that certainly the general public needs, and give them confidence in the PSNI again?”

The graveside gathering for a SF oration at the Storey funeral

Mrs Long replied: “I think it’s a big step to suggest there isn’t general confidence in the PSNI – that’s not my experience, certainly of dealing with the public.

“I have yet to see any kind of substantive reason for any kind of judge-led inquiry and I am clear I will not cross the boundary of trying to usurp the role of the Policing Board.”

The Policing Board, she said, “is the key accountability mechanism for the PSNI”.

Among the board’s members are three Sinn Fein MLAs, including Gerry Kelly himself.

Mrs Long told MLAs: “I will say first that I understand the real hurt and frustration that many people still feel about the events surrounding that funeral. I am especially mindful of those who lost loved ones during the pandemic and that many of them were hurt by the fact that, whilst they stuck to the rules, others did not.

“I’m also very conscious that Mr Storey too has a grieving family, and that every time this is raised, it has an impact on them. So I think we need to proceed sensitively.”

Sinn Fein MLA John O’Dowd then rose to his feet and told the chamber: “I acknowledge your acknowledgement of the grief of Bobby Storey’s funeral every time this subject is raised.”

He accused unionists of “using the grief of others who were hurt by the event around Bobby’s funeral as a political football, and they should be ashamed of themselves”.

In January 2005 Mr Storey was named in Parliament by UUP man David Burnside as being IRA “head of intelligence, reporting to the army council”, and accused him of being behind the Northern Bank robbery, Stormontgate (the alleged IRA spy ring at the Assembly) and the Castlereagh break-in.

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