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Assembly call for SF apology is approved, but O'Neill unbending

She insists she stuck to the rules during Storey funeral

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Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill answers questions in the Stormont chamber yesterday

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill answers questions in the Stormont chamber yesterday

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill answers questions in the Stormont chamber yesterday

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill answers questions in the Stormont chamber yesterday

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill answers questions in the Stormont chamber yesterday

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill answers questions in the Stormont chamber yesterday

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill answers questions in the Stormont chamber yesterday

The Stormont Assembly has passed a motion urging Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill to apologise for attending Bobby Storey's funeral during the pandemic.

Hundreds lined the route of the veteran republican and former IRA member's cortege in west Belfast last week.

The Assembly's declaration passed without a vote yesterday evening.

DUP Assembly Member Christopher Stalford said: "I regret to say that the Deputy First Minister's credibility is shot to bits."

The resolution was backed by the DUP, UUP, SDLP and Alliance - but does not have any practical legal effect.

DUP First Minister Arlene Foster has asked her power-sharing partner to step aside while the PSNI considers the matter.

Mrs O'Neill has apologised "for grieving families experiencing more hurt".

No new deaths have been recorded with Covid-19 in Northern Ireland, the Department of Health said yesterday, leaving the total number of people who have died at 554.

It is the fifth day in a row no deaths have been reported here - the longest stretch without a death since March.

Another five positive cases have been notified since Monday, bringing the total confirmed cases to 5,761.

A group of around 30 walked in Mr Storey's cortege from St Agnes' Church to Milltown Cemetery.

Police are investigating whether any social distancing breaches occurred.

Mrs O'Neill has said she did everything she could to minimise numbers including encouraging thousands to watch it online, while marshals kept the crowds away from the cortege during the journey through west Belfast.

Yesterday she said: "It was not and would never be my intention to hurt anybody within society.

"I am satisfied that I did act responsibly within the church, as part of the cortege and at Milltown Cemetery.

"I take very seriously indeed my responsibility as a public office holder.

"I have acted in accordance with those responsibilities."

Mr Storey was cremated at Roselawn Cemetery in the east of the city, where 30 people were allowed to attend an outdoor committal service.

The other eight cremations that took place on the same day were not allowed services at the site.

Belfast City Council has apologised to those families.

Mr Stalford said social distancing breaches included:

  • Hundreds of people following behind the cortege.
  • Widespread advertising of the event online.
  • Installation of a public address system at Milltown Cemetery.
  • A "mass rally" at the cemetery.
  • The Sinn Fein vice-president posing for a selfie next to others.

Mr Stalford, who represents South Belfast, said: "I regret to say that the Deputy First Minister's credibility is shot to bits."

He added that he was not being cruel or unpleasant, but making a statement of fact about alleged breaches of the coronavirus regulations.

"These rules don't apply to a senior member of Sinn Fein who is being buried.

"That is what really sticks in people's craw.

"That is what is at the core of this issue.

"Do as I say, not as I do."

The SDLP's Daniel McCrossan quoted the principle that all citizens are equal and that everyone will be afforded the same opportunities and treatment under the law.

"The actions of those Members are a very great betrayal of that ideology," he said.

"There cannot be one rule for those who govern and another for the rest of us."

UUP leader Steve Aiken said there was even different mathematics for Sinn Fein in counting the numbers present. "Somehow in the Orwellian Adams world your interpretation of the rules means that somehow you are more equal than the others."

Sinn Fein's Orlaithi Flynn said there had been a relentless media focus on the funeral and appealed for people to respect the grief of Mr Storey's family.

Alliance's Kellie Armstrong said the Executive needed to be ready to deal with the fallout from the end of the jobs furlough scheme, help carers who are at breaking point and reinstall services while remaining alert to the danger of a second spike of the virus.

She said: "Our government is an all or nothing.

"It is either pull the place down or get on with it."

Sinn Fein's John O'Dowd said some of those criticising Mrs O'Neill for attending the funeral had themselves attended a funeral.

He said: "They are human. They did what they had to do at that time."

The Assembly motion also singled out Finance Minister Conor Murphy's presence at the funeral.

It "pays tribute to those who selflessly prioritised the need to keep each other safe above their own personal needs, particularly during times of trauma, loss and grief; expresses disappointment in the actions of those in ministerial office who breached public guidance and failed to share in the sacrifice that we have asked of others; implores members of the public to stay with us and to continue acting in accordance with the regulations in order to keep each other safe and prevent further deaths; recommits to upholding the spirit and the letter of the Covid-19 regulations and the related public health guidance; and calls on the Deputy First Minister and the Minister of Finance to apologise for their actions, which have caused immense hurt".

Belfast Telegraph