Justice Minister Naomi Long sees ‘no substantive reason’ for Bobby Storey funeral inquiry
Justice Minister Naomi Long has reiterated her view that she sees “no substantive reason” for a judge-led review into the Bobby Storey funeral.
Mrs Long also told the Assembly that comments last week from the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) that violence in opposition to the Northern Ireland protocol is not “off the table”, were “reckless”.
During ministerial question time at Stormont Mrs Long was questioned by unionists about the ongoing controversy over the Storey funeral.
About 2,000 people attended Mr Storey’s funeral in Belfast last June at a time when rules placed strict limits on funeral numbers and public gatherings.
The political fallout saw the DUP and Ulster Unionists call for the resignation of PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne.
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill was among those questioned as part of a six-month police investigation following the funeral.
Last week a review by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) found no bias in the policing operation. The review was launched after it was announced prosecutions could not be brought against 24 Sinn Fein politicians.
DUP MLA William Humphrey said: “The Storey funeral and the events around it have clearly caused reputational damage to the PSNI. A barrister-led inquiry at Belfast City Hall and the HMIC report have not provided the clarity and certainty the general public requires.
“Does the minister believe an independent judge-led inquiry would be both helpful and provide the clarification the general public need going forward and give them confidence in the PSNI once again?”
Mrs Long responded: “I think it is a big step to suggest there isn’t general confidence in the PSNI, that is not my experience.
“I have yet to see any 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.”
Sinn Fein MLA John O’Dowd said: “Those who raise this are using the grief of others who were hurt by the events around the funeral as a political football and they should be ashamed of themselves.”
Mr O’Dowd then turned his attention to the appearance by representatives from the LCC appeared before the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (NIAC) last week.
He asked the minister: “Would you join with me in condemning the comments from the Loyalist Community Council (LCC) at Westminster last week where they once again threatened the use of violence?”
The Justice Minister said: “I have no hesitation in condemning any group, any organisation, which suggests that violence is a way to further their political objectives. Violence should never be on the table. People making those comments are doing so recklessly.
“I would ask people seriously to de-escalate some of the language they use around these issues. It is neither helpful to their cause nor is it appropriate in a lawful society.”
Mr O’Dowd responded: “Is it not the case that those political parties who meet with the LCC give them a status they do not deserve? The only item on the agenda for these meetings should be when are you disbanding?”
Mrs Long said: “It is the only question with which I would be willing to engage with the LCC because until loyalist paramilitarism has ended, until all paramilitary organisations have gone away, then we are not in a normal society.
“I have no difficulty in engaging with the loyalist community, but I refuse to equate the loyalist community with loyalist terrorists.”
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