Those attending the funeral of prominent republican Bobby Storey have shown "no respect" for Covid-19 restrictions, the DUP has claimed.
Mr Storey, who died last week aged 64, was laid to rest after Requiem Mass at St Agnes church in west Belfast.
By 10am, an hour before Mass, hundreds had already gathered outside and lined the Andersonstown Road, which was eventually closed to traffic.
The mourners included Sinn Fein presidents past and present Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald, the party's northern leader and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill and members of her late predecessor Martin McGuinness's family.
There was a low-profile but visible police presence, and scores of volunteer stewards in place to manage the large crowd on a cold, grey morning.
However, DUP MP Gregory Campbell said the size of the funeral will be a "kick in the teeth" for many families who have adhered to Covid-19 restrictions and prevented people from attending their loved one's funeral.
Mary Lou McDonald and Gerry Adams as the funeral of Bobby Storey takes place in Andersonstown, west Belfast on June 30th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
He said: “Last week I emailed the Chief Constable alerting him to the funeral of Bobby Storey and the potential for a mass gathering given the Covid-19 restrictions and previous mass gatherings at paramilitary funerals.
"With hundreds of people gathered for the IRA man’s funeral on Tuesday, it will have felt like a kick in the teeth for the many families who over recent weeks have gone to considerable lengths to discourage people from attending their loved one’s funeral.
"The scenes in west Belfast showed no respect for the Covid-19 restrictions. The presence of senior Sinn Fein personnel such as deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and others will lead many to conclude it is 'do as I say not as I do'. Police action needs to follow and be seen to take effect.”
Mr Campbell's comments were echoed by UUP leader Steve Aiken who said that Sinn Fein had shown contempt for the coronavirus regulations and the general public.
"It is hard to see how Michelle O`Neill can now stand at an Executive press conference with any credibility, integrity and authority and ask the people of Northern Ireland to listen to her. Any normal political leader would be considering their position," he said.
In his homily during Requiem Mass, Fr Gary Donegan quoted from a tweet written by Sinn Fein veteran Gerry Kelly shortly after Mr Storey died, in which the MLA wrote: “Bobby ran the marathon of life at a sprint, in conflict and in peace... his legacy will drive us all forward.”
Fr Donegan – who earlier this week hit out at “keyboard warriors” criticising him for taking on the former IRA leader’s funeral – said: “Over these days, many comments and eulogies have and will be written about Bobby. This is different.”
He added: “A Requiem Mass is a time for us to remember the mercy of God and it opens us to a pathway of understanding of God’s unconditional love”.
Fr Donegan told the small, restricted congregation inside the church that Mr Storey, who was born in north Belfast in 1956, was raised during “a time when communities were under threat and the army were constantly patrolling the streets... ultimately the family were intimidated from their home and spent several days sheltering in Girdwood Army Barracks.”
Mr Storey would later rise in the republican ranks, becoming the IRA’s director of intelligence and the northern chairman of Sinn Fein. He spent many years in jail for various offences, and played a key role in the mass IRA breakout from the Maze Prison in 1983.
A powerfully built man, 6ft 4ins tall, he was widely regarded as one of the most feared and formidable members of the republican organisation.
He is also credited with a prominent role in the Northern Ireland peace process.
At the funeral, Fr Donegan described him as a devoted partner to Teresa with a “gift of humour extended to all he met”.
“Rarely would you be in his presence, even in moments of extreme tension, without him making you laugh,” Fr Donegan said.
“It’s hard to credit that Bobby was on first name terms with the lady behind the face cream counter at Debenhams. There aren’t too many men here today who can say that.”
Fr Donegan recalled how Mr Storey’s 30-year relationship with Teresa “began to develop from the time of Bobby’s first parole in 1989” and how his long-term partner “spoke of Bobby the family man and the great love he had for his sister Geraldine and brothers Seamus and Brian”.
“She told us of the great mutual love shared between Bobby and her sons Emmett, Fergal and Sean,” he said.
“Over the years his character rubbed off onto them and Bobby played his part in making them the men they are today. Bobby was a natural with children.
“He came alive when he was with them. When it came to grandchildren, he took centre stage. Teresa could cook and clean for them all day but when ‘Granda Bobby’ appeared she was shoved to one side and he became the centre of attention.
“He never forgot the birthdays of the grandchildren and his godchildren.”
Fr Donegan said that, having worked as a confessor for the past 29 years, he thanks God for “not being confined to the limitations of human compassion and mercy”.
“Often the biggest task of a confessor is to convince people to follow God’s example and to forgive themselves”.
“Another aspect, ironically found within the most fervent people of faith is their inability to be able to cast the net of compassion and forgiveness wider than within the narrow confines of their humanity.”
Mr Storey was buried in the republican plot at Milltown Cemetery, where Gerry Adams delivered a eulogy.