Coronavirus: Pensioner impales himself on cemetery railings trying to visit wife’s grave during Covid-19 lockdown

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A grieving Northern Ireland pensioner has impaled himself on cemetery railings after trying to climb in to visit his wife’s grave during lockdown.

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson revealed the tragedy as he was articulating the widespread stress he said is being caused to grieving families across Northern Ireland who are currently unable to visit the graves of loved ones.

Mr Donaldson told the Nolan Show today: “What does it say when an elderly gentleman who just wants to visit the grave of his wife impales himself on a fence in his desperation to get to the grave of that loved on?”

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The DUP has not released any furtherinnformation about the man. It is understood the accident happened in the Lagan Valley Area.

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey DonaldsonDUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson
DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson | Other 3rd Party

The news comes after reports of tensions in the Executive over the reopening of cemeteries, which were formally closed under lockdown legislation passed by the assembly several weeks ago.

The DUP has called for cemeteries across Northern Ireland to be reopened on a “controlled basis”.

Sir Jeffrey said it was “about making balanced judgements”.

“We believe it is possible to do this safely, to put in place measures that will protect people and at the same time enable them, if they need to, to visit their loved ones,” he added.

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However the DUP MP said there is a “difference of opinion” within the executive about when the decision should be taken.

The Alliance Party said that while it had sympathy with those wished to visit the grave of a loved one, it was “important we maintain the stay-at-home guidelines until the lockdown guidelines are relaxed”.

Sir Jeffrey said he believed a system could be put in place in order for people to visit cemeteries safely.

He suggested a one-way system could be set up, or that opening hours should be reduced and that social distancing measures should be strictly adhered to.

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“We allow people to go out to the supermarket, where they queue up,” he added.

The UUP issued a statement today in support of the DUP position.

“The Ulster Unionist Party believes that cemeteries in Northern Ireland should be reopened on a controlled basis,” it said. “We understand that this is a very difficult subject for many people and we need to recognise the importance of protecting public health alongside being able to allow families to grieve. We believe that this can be done with social distancing rules strictly adhered to and continuing restrictions on the numbers being able to attend funerals remaining in place.”

Meanwhile SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood MP has written to Health Minister Robin Swann today requesting the latest medical and scientific advice from the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Officer on the proposal.

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The Foyle MP said that the lockdown has been particularly painful for those experiencing loss but that any change in restrictions must be balanced with the duty to prevent further loss.

“The SDLP will be guided by our responsibility to protect people,” he said. “If possible, we will do all we can to relieve the emotional distress that people are under. But ultimately, we must prevent any unnecessary loss of life. The advice of the CMO and CSO will be critical in making these determinations.”

Sinn Fein has not yet offered any comment from the party leadership on the matter.

The debate echoes disagreements at Mid and East Antrim Borough Council after it becamse the first council to reopen a number of recycling centres following a spike in fly tipping in the area.

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DUP councillors strongly supported the move but it was opposed by Sinn Fein and Alliance members of the council, who believed the move posed to great a risk in the battle against Covid-19.

England’s Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick said on Saturday that parks and cemeteries must remain open and family can attend loved ones’ funerals, however they have been closed in Northern Ireland under emergency Covid-19 legislation passed by the assembly.

Mid and East Antrim DUP Councillors Andrew Clarke has started an online petition calling on Stormont to reopen cemeteries. So far just over 1,300 people have signed it.

Last night Lisburn and Castlereagh Borough Council announced it was reopening 11 public parks. Only two local councils still have their parks closed, Newry Mourne and Down and Armagh Banbridge and Craiagvon.

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