The Northern Ireland Executive is set to consider reopening the region’s cemeteries.
Council-run graveyards were closed last month as part of the coronavirus movement restrictions, but there have been mounting calls to reopen them, with bereaved relatives highlighting the mental anguish of being prevented from visiting the graves of loved ones.
Asked Health Minister at Health Comm if any medical or scientific reason for cemeteries to remain closed. Restated his personal position but reported it required an Exec agreement. Experts will confirm to exec tomorrow what medical and scientific situation is.1/2— Alan Chambers MLA (@alcham49) April 23, 2020
Health minister Robin Swann told a Stormont scrutiny committee on Thursday that he “doesn’t see any reason why” they should be closed.
But he said it was not his decision to make, adding that the Executive will be discussing the matter on Friday, with expert advice from chief medical officer Michael McBride and chief scientific adviser Ian Young.
“They could be managed with appropriate measures and supports put in place, because in terms of the mental support that we need to give individuals, there are a number of people in our community who get that reassurance, that mental support and strength, by going to a graveyard and visiting a grave,” Mr Swann told the health committee.
“Again it’s about the balances that we put in to make sure support mechanisms and restrictions and regulations we put in don’t have an adverse effect.
“The chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser are providing an input into a number of questions to the Executive tomorrow and at that point the Executive will make the decision because, although the regulations that are in place are in the name of health, I brought them forward on behalf of the Executive.
“The decision will lie with the Executive either to ease those or strengthen those.”
The issue has divided parties in the powersharing Executive.
The DUP and UUP support reopening, while Sinn Fein and the Alliance Party remain opposed.