Council officials’ threat to quit does not deter parties backing independent probe

Councillors on Belfast City City Council are today expected to press ahead with the creation of an independent investigation into a top IRA man’s funeral - despite a threat from the council’s chief executive to quit if that happens.
A PR firm employed by Nigel Grimshaw and Suzanne Wylie yesterday made no comment about the situationA PR firm employed by Nigel Grimshaw and Suzanne Wylie yesterday made no comment about the situation
A PR firm employed by Nigel Grimshaw and Suzanne Wylie yesterday made no comment about the situation

On Tuesday, the council’s chief executive, Suzanne Wylie, and senior executive Nigel Grimshaw, released an extraordinarily unusual statement through a Belfast PR firm.

The cryptic statement contained an unreserved personal apology for what happened at Bobby Storey’s funeral last Tuesday – but the council had already issued a statement through its own press office two days earlier in which it had apologised.

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The PR company, Brown O’Connor, declined to comment when the News Letter asked on Tuesday who was paying the bill for its services.

However, yesterday the council confirmed that it was not paying the company.

On Wednesday night the pair told the Belfast Telegraph that they had lodged a formal grievance and were threatening to resign if their unspecified concerns were not resolved.

Yesterday the Nolan Show reported that the resignation threat was in response to the DUP proposal to have an independent investigation - rather than have council staff investigate council staff – into the affair.

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However, the threat does not appear to have had the desired outcome, with a majority of the parties on the council – including the DUP, SDLP and Alliance – remaining firmly in support of the need for an outsider to be brought in to probe what had gone on.

Alliance group leader Michael Long last night told Evening Extra that there had been a “drip-feed of more and more issues coming out” and “we’ve got to the point now that we need somebody to look at this independently, we’ve got to have full openness and transparency”.

SDLP Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon, a former Belfast Lord Mayor, told Good Morning Ulster that her party would be supporting independent investigations in both the council and Stormont.

She said: “We absolutely need to establish the facts. The situation in Roselawn is totally unacceptable – the fact that on the same day families were treated differently from one family and the hurt and trauma that that’s caused.

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“So we need to understand how that happened, why that happened and make sure that’s something like that doesn’t happen again”.

Councillors will debate and vote on the issue this afternoon.

The News Letter asked the council, and the PR firm acting for Ms Wylie and Mr Grimshaw, to clarify what was going on.

The council responded: “Due to an ongoing process, we are unable to comment”.At the time of going to press there had been no response from the PR firm.

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Central to the concerns over what happened last Tuesday is the revelation – after the council had initially suggested it was not the case – that either other families were treated less favourably than that of Mr Storey on the same day as his cremation.

Yesterday the council told the BBC that it had offered to waive the cremation fee for those families and to help facilitate a memorial service for their loved ones at a later date.

The terms of reference which the DUP have proposed for the investigation would give the city solicitor – a council employee – the right to censor parts of the report if he deems that “legally necessary or otherwise appropriate” before it is published on the council website.

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Alistair Bushe