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Coronavirus: Petition urges Stormont to let bereaved mourn with dignity

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DUP councillor Andrew Clarke

DUP councillor Andrew Clarke

Milltown Cemetery

Milltown Cemetery

DUP councillor Andrew Clarke

More than 1,000 people signed an online petition in one day calling for cemeteries in Northern Ireland to be reopened to allow grieving relatives to visit the graves of their loved ones.

The petition is calling on Stormont to show compassion for those who have lost family and friends to be allowed to mourn with dignity.

Started by DUP Mid and East Antrim councillor Andrew Clarke on Sunday, the petition is asking people who believe that cemeteries should be allowed to open to make their feelings known.

New rules passed by Stormont - and backed by Mr Clarke's own party - mean cemeteries must remain closed during the pandemic.

But Mr Clarke said he believes MLAs "should act immediately to allow the grieving to visit their loved ones' graves".

"The process of grieving is long and deep, and should only be interfered with where there is a clear and strong danger," he said.

"If social distancing is maintained - and it usually is in any case in this most private of times - there is no danger of spreading the virus.

"How is it right that you can walk around a park or go shopping for tins of booze, but can't spend a few moments by your child's grave?

"Many of those grieving have contacted me with their stories, and those stories are deeply moving. Stormont should be standing with people at this time, not inflicting unnecessary suffering."

Current restrictions also mean that a maximum of 10 close family members can be present - socially distanced - at private funeral services and subsequent committals at cemeteries, while Roselawn crematorium is out of bounds to all mourners.

Death notices in newspapers no longer carry details about the timings of funerals and where they're being held.

Mr Clarke's petition states: "Stormont, we know you are busy. But please do the right thing. Allow us to mourn with dignity. Open our cemeteries."

It adds: "Cemeteries were the one place where social distancing has been practiced all along. Perhaps it is thought best to open with limited hours, or with increased signage, or to supervise in a trial way."

The petition is available on the change.org website. Search for 'Open Northern Ireland's Cemeteries'.

Belfast Telegraph