Special treatment for the Bobby Storey IRA funeral has done lasting damage to good relations in Northern Ireland

News Letter editorial of February 19 2021:

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

What happened on June 30 in west then east Belfast caused lasting damage to good relations in Northern Ireland.

After thousands of families had held socially distanced funerals for loved ones, in line with coronavirus restrictions, republicans put on what seemed to everyone else like a massive show of strength.

That day the city saw perhaps the biggest single gathering of people in the British Isles since the Cheltenham racing festival last year was held, just before lockdown.

Thousands of people came on to the streets for the funeral of a leading IRA terrorist criminal, Bobby Storey, after various messages had been issued encouraging mourners to attend. Hundreds of uniformed stewards lined the route.

The PSNI and Belfast City Council disgraced themselves in facilitating this huge event at a time when the whole community had either willingly made sacrifices for the general health of society, or (in the case of a small number of less publicly spirited people) done so due to threat of fines.

The Sinn Fein leaders Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill and other senior members of the republican movement were part of the flagrant mass social distancing breach.

Worse, the party had been aggressively self righteous on lockdown, often accusing political rivals of being reckless over Covid, and calling for stricter measures.

It was a vile display of hypocrisy. Yet Ms O’Neill has been defiant ever since, and presided over fresh restrictions.

That the Storey group were given special access to Roselawn, and other families not, was a very low moment in the history of the council of Northern Ireland’s capital city. But there have been no consequences of any note over the saga.

Sinn Fein was crowing after yesterday’s report into the affair was released. As Arlene Foster said, the report is long and will take time to absorb. But whatever the exact findings, it has been clear for decades that there is one rule for republicans, and one for everyone else.

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Alistair Bushe