Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill says she is ‘truly sorry’ about hurt caused ‘to so many families’ | First Minister says ‘the prioritisation at Roselawn over other grieving families was hurtful, ignorant and callous in the extreme’

Thursday, 1st April 2021, 3:39 pm

First Minister Arlene Foster has accused Sinn Fein of “clear and premeditated breaches of the Covid regulations” at the funeral of republican Bobby Storey last June.

Speaking before Ms O’Neill issued an apology in the Assembly, Mrs Foster said: “Sinn Fein chose to act in a way that breached the regulations on funerals at that time and in so doing happily sent a signal to everyone else in Northern Ireland that it was one rule for them and one rule for the rest of us.

“The actions of senior Sinn Fein representatives, the Sinn Fein deputy First Minister, their Executive minister, Sinn Fein members of the Northern Ireland Policing Board sparked the political crisis.”

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She added that “the prioritisation at Roselawn over other grieving families was hurtful, ignorant and callous in the extreme, acts of arrogance, acts of self entitlement, acts of privilege”.

Addressing MLA’s Ms O’Neill has reiterated her apologies to anyone who was hurt at her attendance at the funeral of Bobby Storey.

She said she is “truly sorry for the hurt that has been caused to so many families who have lost a loved one during this time”.

She said her attendance at the funeral of Bobby Storey last June was to “support a family during their grief as he was laid to rest”.

Michelle O’Neill and other top republicans at IRA man Bobby Storey’s funeral

“Over the past nine months I have worked tirelessly to rebuild trust and confidence with the public as a result of undermining the public health message,” she told MLAs.

“I am truly sorry that my actions have contributed to the grief or the heartache that has been felt and experienced by many people who have lost a loved one during this pandemic. That was never, ever my intention and for that I offer my heartfelt and unreserved apology to those families that have lost a loved one.”

Ms O’Neill said she takes “very seriously my responsibility as a public office holder and as deputy First Minister and joint head of government”.

The Sinn Fein deputy leader said the events of the day of Bobby Storey’s funeral have been investigated by police and said she gave her full co-operation to officers.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald, ex leader Gerry Adams, and northern leader Michelle O'Neill with other Sinn Fein members at the Bobby Storey funeral last year. The funeral organisers were Sinn Fein, who sit on the executive that wrote Covid rules. Liam McBurney/PA

Referring to the decision by the Public Prosecution Service not to pursue prosecutions against 24 Sinn Fein elected representatives who attended the funeral, she said it was made “independently and impartially by the team of senior prosecutors assisted by senior counsel”.

“I understand a review of that judgment has now been requested and I’ll await the outcome of that,” she said.

“Nevertheless, it is unfortunate that this matter has divided the Executive and Assembly that many of us worked so hard to bring about and to restore in order to get on with delivering public services to the public to whom we serve.”

The Northern Ireland Assembly was recalled to debate a motion of censure against Sinn Féin. The Assembly sitting comes after the Public Prosecution Service announced there would be no prosecutions against anyone who attended Bobby Storey’s funeral in June 2020.

The funeral last June attracted 2,000 mourners - including Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill - at a time when Covid restrictions were in place.

First Minister Arlene Foster has called for the PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne to resign in the wake of the decision. But he has rejected the call.

Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy (Sinn Fein) also acknowledged that “hurt has been caused to many families who had to bury their loved ones during this unprecedented health crisis”.

“This was never my intention nor do I believe was the intention of anyone involved in the funeral (of Bobby Storey),” he told MLAs.

“However. hurt was caused and I apologise for that unreservedly.

“Let me be absolutely clear, the law does not distinguish between one set of people and another, or one funeral and another.

“I accept and co-operated with the police investigation into these events. The PPS has now said it will review the decision it made and I await the outcome of that review.

“I accept fully the outcome of these processes, however let me reiterate here again today, that I do regret the political division that this has caused in the Assembly and to public health messaging that we worked so hard to develop as a collective and agreed response to this terrible pandemic.

“I want to say sorry to the wider community, but more particularly to apologise fully and unreservedly to those families who were hurt in any way by my actions.”

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