A Belfast family who were counted in to Roselawn cemetery at the funeral of their brother last month have been left furious and upset after it emerged Belfast City Council handed over control of the grounds for the cremation of Bobby Storey.
The council confirmed that members of Roselawn staff were sent home early to allow "family-appointed stewards" to take control of the funeral on Tuesday.
William (Billy) Dowie (84) died in a Belfast nursing home from Covid-19, with his funeral held at Roselawn on June 1.
His sister-in-law Emily Boomer said seeing that many people who were not family members appear to have gained access to the Storey service had compounded a month of grief.
"We had to deal with Billy's death in a nursing home in very difficult circumstances," Emily told the Belfast Telegraph.
"We couldn't even shake hands at his funeral. When we went to Roselawn we were counted in through the gate. Once we got to 10 that was it.
"What gives Sinn Fein the right to conduct a funeral in this way? We need to know who was there, why they were allowed to be there when we had to abide by the regulations.
"We're hurt. Badly hurt, upset, angry, there are not enough words. There are so many questions over what, to us, looks like a farce."
A second bereaved woman also spoke out in criticism at the events at Roselawn.
Lynn Paul was standing at the gates of Roselawn watching her mother, Evelyn McMullen, make a lone final journey alone, as crowds gathered in West Belfast for the Storey funeral.
Already devastated by what she saw on Tuesday, she has been left "feeling sick" over what happened at the cemetery just after her mother's cremation.
"The council said all cremations held on Tuesday went by the guidance. Does this mean they fast-tracked one law for one and another for the rest? Something stinks here," she said. "At what time on Tuesday did the regulations change? I'm fuming."
Belfast City Council said decisions on how Mr Storey's cremation was handled were taken impartially and in line with coronavirus rules.
"Roselawn Crematorium chapel and indoor facilities were closed to all mourners due to Covid-19," it said.
"Mourners have the option of holding an outdoor service outside the crematorium chapel. The NI Executive set out guidance to permit 30 people to gather outside, which permitted us to offer this as an option. All cremations held on Tuesday complied with the guidance.
"A local elected representative contacted council officials to enquire on what was permissible and what numbers were allowed on Tuesday.
"That local elected representative also informed the council officials that people, appointed by the family, would be on site to assist the family in ensuring that the only people given access to the site would be family.
"These people, playing a stewarding role for family, would work with Belfast City Council staff to ensure that those allowed on the site were only those permitted by the family.
"Some non-cremation staff who would normally finish at 4pm, finished at 2pm and the last member of staff due to finish at 4pm, finished at 3pm. This decision was made to avoid a situation where staff would be photographed.
"It made sense operationally that staff who did not need to be there could leave before potential volumes of traffic and media arrived. Fifteen members of staff were left on site.
"Belfast City Council made an operational decision to hold the last three cremation slots of the day. There is currently no waiting list at Roselawn Crematorium and no cremations were cancelled."
First Minister Arlene Foster asked why the ceremony at Milltown could not have taken place at a later date, when lockdown restrictions had been eased.
And UUP MLA Doug Beattie said the Sinn Fein's actions had turned the funeral into "a circus. "The whole integrity of Belfast City Council has been called into question when we have unelected representatives making decisions over the head of elected representatives," he said.
"The council are trying to stand over this decision but what this does is tell us there has been a hierarchy of funerals. Sinn Fein have been given free reign of movement within Roselawn at a time when others have been denied."
However, Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill insisted that everything that happened at Roselawn was done in compliance with council guidelines.
She urged people to stop "stirring the pot" over the issue and give the Storey family space to grieve.