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Co Armagh councillor's sadness at being unable to visit son's grave during coronavirus crisis

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Tragic loss: Julie Flaherty with Jake

Tragic loss: Julie Flaherty with Jake

Tragic loss: Julie Flaherty with Jake

A Co Armagh councillor who lost her young son has said cemeteries should only reopen as and when it is safe to do so.

Julie Flaherty said it had been "incredibly distressing" for many bereaved families. But she said: "I might not have liked it but I have accepted it, for now."

The UUP councillor was speaking after the UK Secretary of State for Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick urged councils to keep open, or reopen, cemeteries and graveyards for people to make private visits or privately lay flowers.

Ms Flaherty, who lost her two-year-old son Jake in 2013, said she cannot visit his grave.

"Today, the gates are padlocked. The cemetery is quiet. People have left flowers on the adjoining fences," she said.

"As a local UUP councillor I have a responsibility. I have a civic and a moral responsibility to do what is right for my area, to do what is right for my constituents, and at present, that means keeping them safe.

"That doesn't mean it is easy. That doesn't mean it is popular. That doesn't mean that it doesn't hurt.

"It is difficult to understand and the decisions around cemeteries and funerals are deeply upsetting for many. I have found it very hard to take."

Ms Flaherty said she has accepted the need to temporarily close council cemeteries.

She said: "Closing our precious places of remembrance, our places of grief and of comfort has been desperately difficult to take. I might not have liked it but I have accepted it, for now.

"I have spoken to many very distressed families who, like me, have found this incredibly distressing. I can tell them I'm sorry, it will not be forever and have told them that when it is safe to do so, we will reopen."

Ms Flaherty said "we will have many dark days ahead as a community".

She added: "If this can be done, it should be done. It is the right thing to do but it, like the opening of parks, must be done at the right time."

Belfast Telegraph