| 12.8°C Belfast

Bobby Storey funeral: Sinn Fein hit out at 'witch-hunt' after council official receives death threat


Belfast City Council’s crematorium at Roselawn

Belfast City Council’s crematorium at Roselawn

Belfast City Council’s crematorium at Roselawn

Sinn Fein is accusing unionists of conducting "a witch-hunt" against Belfast City Council's two most senior officers as councillors voted for an independent investigation into the Bobby Storey funeral controversy.

Every party, except Sinn Fein and People Before Profit, supported the motion calling for the investigation at an emergency council meeting on Friday.

The DUP, Alliance, SDLP, Greens, Progressive Unionist Party and Ulster Unionists insisted that a full and rigorous investigation was essential to restore public confidence in the council.

The cremation service at Roselawn Cemetery for the former IRA leader on June 30 was the only one of nine that day where 30 people were allowed to attend.

Council chief executive Suzanne Wylie and Director of City and Neighbourhood Services Nigel Grimshaw have apologised to the eight families denied the same treatment as Mr Storey's.

Both senior officers have lodged a formal grievance with the council and have threatened to resign.

Sinn Fein group leader Ciaran Beattie said their treatment had been "terrible" and there was a strategy in place to undermine two people who had "done nothing wrong".

He said that some people wanted "a pound of flesh", adding "this is a witch-hunt".

Mr Beattie said that Ms Wylie and Mr Grimshaw had put in 80 hour weeks throughout the coronavirus crisis and "no two worked harder".

He said that he had every confidence they would be vindicated. He added that Bobby Storey had "fought for equality his whole life" and would not have wanted other families treated differently to his own.

Ulster Unionist councillor Sonia Copeland said that she held the two senior council officers in high regard as "good and honest public servants".

But she continued: "Nothing I have heard has changed my view that public confidence could not be restored by anything other than a full and independent investigation.

"I will play no part in any witch-hunt, I will not join bombastic calls for rolling of heads.

"I expect the facts, warts and all." DUP group leader George Dorrian said that the council was "corporately responsible" for what happened to the eight other families.

He said that he had never experienced such "anger and sadness" in the community since he had joined the council.

PUP councillor Dr John Kyle said: "It is important we have an independent investigation. Every institution makes mistakes.

"We need to know what happened and when and why decisions were made."

Alliance councillor Sian Mulholland said there was a need for "clarity and transparency" around events in Roselawn Cemetery rather than the "drip-feed of information" there had been to councillors.

The Greens' Malachai O'Hara apologised to the eight families but said words would be "cold comfort" to them.

It appeared that there was "one rule for senior politicians and those with power and influence and another for ordinary people", he added.

SDLP group leader Donal Lyons said that a comprehensive investigation was needed.

People Before Profit group leader Fiona Ferguson said her thoughts were "very firmly with those families who were denied the opportunity that others had to grieve".

But she said that she could not support the motion because of the double standards of other parties "who shirk suggestions of similar inquiries into deaths in care homes and fines for Black Lives Matter protesters". She objected to CCTV footage of grieving families being handed over to an investigator without their permission.

The motion was passed with 36 votes in favour, and 21 Sinn Fein and People Before Profit councillors abstaining.

Belfast Telegraph