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NI chief medic McBride tight-lipped over Sinn Fein Storey funeral coronavirus rule breaches

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The funeral cortege of Bobby Storey in west Belfast last week

The funeral cortege of Bobby Storey in west Belfast last week

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The funeral cortege of Bobby Storey in west Belfast last week

Northern Ireland's Chief Medical Officer has refused to say if he believes the coronavirus regulations were broken at the funeral of senior republican Bobby Storey.

Despite repeated questioning, Dr Michael McBride told the BBC Radio Ulster Nolan Show he did not feel comfortable commenting while a police investigation was ongoing and it was not part of his role as chief medic to comment on who may have breached the guidelines.

Dr McBride said that he had not viewed the footage of the funeral, but acknowledged that families of other people who have died during the pandemic could have felt hurt if rules were broken.

The day before Mr Storey's funeral the Executive approved increasing the number of people allowed to gather outside from 10 to 30. Dr McBride said he felt no pressure to recommend lifting the restrictions for funerals.

The large-scale alleged breaking of the rules by senior members of Sinn Fein, including deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, has plunged Northern Ireland into political crisis in the middle of the pandemic.

Ms O’Neill has repeatedly denied breaking the regulations. She apologised to grieving families for the hurt that may have been caused but has said she will never apologise for attending the funeral of her friend.

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne has requested an external police officer investigate if there were breaches of the Covid-19 regulations at the funeral.

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Dr Michael McBride

Dr Michael McBride

Dr Michael McBride

Dr McBride told Stephen Nolan it would "entirely inappropriate" for him to comment while a police investigation is ongoing and other investigations could take place.

The Chief Medical Officer said that he "apologised unreservedly" for the fact that many family members were not able to say goodbye to their loved ones or grieve in the normal way.

While Dr McBride said it would be wrong for him to comment on specifics around the Storey funeral and the regulations he outlined the rules generally on the day in question.

He said that on June 30 it was a reasonable excuse for a person to leave their home to attend the funeral of a member of that person's household, a family member, or a friend - if no family member or member of their household could attend.

Dr McBride said he was still yet to see the media footage of the Storey funeral. Hundreds of people lined the streets of west Belfast as Mr Storey's funeral cortege made its way to Milltown Cemetery for graveside speeches. The funeral later moved to Roselawn for cremation.

"I have heard of the reports and obviously the coverage around this. Look, I think all these things are very, very difficult," he said.

The Chief Medical Officer noted there had been a number of high profile funerals and protests in recent months.

"I understand the emotion and I understand the need for families and friends and communities to wish to express support, but equally I absolutely appreciate the hurt and concern after some of those images I've described," Dr McBride said.

"I think any large gathering where people are not able to appropriately socially distance, and particularly if that's in a confined space, that is a cause for concern."

Asked about the increase in people allowed to gather outside the day before the Storey funeral Dr McBride said it had been a matter of "ongoing and continuous discussion" due to the sensitive nature of the issue.

Mr Nolan pressed the Chief Medical Officer if it was just a coincidence that the rule change came into affect the day before.

"No I did not feel under any pressure," Dr McBride replied.

Belfast Telegraph