Fury as drivers disrupt funerals, damage graves and hurl abuse in three cemeteries
Council vows to tackle problem
They should be places of sanctuary and peaceful reflection.
But learner drivers and speeding motorists have been accused of causing havoc at graveyards by disrupting funerals, damaging headstones and hurling abuse.
Clergy, undertakers and cemetery staff have reportedly been insulted by aggressive motorists caught up in traffic snarl-ups at cemeteries on the north coast.
The number of unruly drivers in graveyards is said to have led to damage to headstones and surrounds, amid claims some have taken to driving over graves at times of congestion.
The behaviour has led to calls for unrestricted access to graveyards in the area to be curbed.
An investigation into the scale of the problem was launched by Coleraine Borough Council following a spate of complaints.
A senior council officer warned the behaviour of some motorists "cannot continue".
Three council-run cemeteries are said to be affected.
They are situated at Ballysally in Coleraine, Ballywillan in Portrush and Portstewart.
"Not only is uncontrolled vehicular access detracting from the serenity that should prevail in a cemetery environment, but moreover uncontrolled vehicular access is causing damage to the cemetery and posing a health and safety risk," councillors in Coleraine were told.
The council officer's report on the issue found: "Congestion has led to anti-social behaviour between visitors to the cemeteries.
"Furthermore, aggressive and abusive behaviour has been directed at our staff, clergymen and undertakers during burials and interments.
"The safety of our staff is being compromised when working, due to the uncontrolled vehicular access.
"Damage has occurred to headstones and grave surrounds.
"Speed limits are not being adhered to and staff have observed learner drivers using the cemetery for driver training."
Mayor of Coleraine, George Duddy, said he was stunned by the behaviour of some motorists during a funeral he attended.
"I couldn't believe that people could be so insensitive in a graveyard – car doors banging and others walking through mourners to get water as a body was being interred," the DUP man said.
The crisis has prompted moves to try and ban uncontrolled access to the cemeteries during a recent meeting of Coleraine Borough Council.
Councillors agreed to investigate restricting access to the graveyards affected to "appropriate traffic only".
Neighbouring Ballymoney Borough Council recently installed automated barriers in its cemeteries, restricting access to vehicles other than funeral processions and disabled motorists.
Coleraine-based undertaker Hugh Wade said he had never encountered abusive or anti-social behaviour but admitted congestion was often a problem.
"I've experienced it in Coleraine cemetery just," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"When you go in with funerals it can be difficult getting round some of the paths because of parked cars.
"I've suggested that perhaps they control the cemetery for half an hour while funerals are in, perhaps some way of directing cars."