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Fears funeral system will be swamped by bodies

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Meeting: Paul Givan

Meeting: Paul Givan

Meeting: Paul Givan

Authorities are seeking to expand capacity for storage of bodies in Northern Ireland amid concerns the funeral system will be overwhelmed by coronavirus.

Stormont's Justice Committee was told officials are working to increase the current capacity of 280 bodies due to fears of a backlog of burials and cremations.

Doreen McClintock, from the Department of Justice, said she hoped the current practice of holding funerals within three days of a death would continue for as long as possible.

But the senior official acknowledged there was likely to come a point where that was no longer possible.

As well as an increase in death rate due to the disease, she said sickness among funeral directors and council staff would also put added pressure on the system.

Ms McClintock was briefing members on the contents of emergency coronavirus legislation as they went through Westminster yesterday - laws set to be introduced in Northern Ireland in the Assembly today.

"We are trying to speed up the system to manage as long as possible with burials and cremations," she said. "We will try to continue with normal burials and cremations until the point where the system is no longer able to cope with that and then we are looking at body storage solutions beyond that."

Ms McClintock added: "We already have capacity at the minute for 280 bodies if we need to go over and above normal capacity, and we are actively seeking to increase that so, if we need to, we can store the bodies until such times as we are able to facilitate the burial."

She said she was mindful of the requirements of certain faiths for burials within a certain time frame. Ms McClintock told committee chairman Paul Givan the authorities would try their best to comply with the wishes of bereaved relatives but cautioned that it might not be possible as the outbreak worsens.

She said: "It will be a lot about communicating and making sure people are very much involved in the process."

Ms McClintock said additional storage would be sought within the private sector.

Belfast Telegraph