Michelle O’Neill still has a “very considerable” job to do in leading Northern Ireland back to normality, Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said.
The party’s vice-president should not be punished and asked to step aside for attending the funeral of her friend Bobby Storey, she added.
The Stormont Executive, which Ms O’Neill is deputy first minister of, has been gradually unwinding coronavirus restrictions imposed in March to limit the spread of Covid-19.
Her party leader said: “I am also very clear that everybody in politics, but particularly in the North those leading the Executive, still have a very considerable job to do.
“We need to get our children back to school, we need to get people back to college and university, we need to get people back to work safely.
“That work is underway but it is not finished yet.
“I don’t think anybody should be punished or asked to step aside or step down because they attended the funeral of their friend.”
She said people had done their best to abide by the coronavirus regulations during this week’s Belfast funeral.
First Minister Arlene Foster has pointed to funerals of her own close friends and colleagues like Edwin Poots’ and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s fathers which she was not able to attend earlier in the pandemic.
Ms McDonald said she was honoured by Mr Storey’s family to be asked to deliver a reading at the funeral.
She said: “Where someone is a public figure or where someone dies in very difficult and tragic circumstances people will come out to pay their respects.
“I believe that those organising the funeral tried their very best to maintain social distancing but I also know the public sentiment when it is someone known and admired or loved or someone who loses their life in very tragic circumstances – people will come out to pay their respects.
“There needs to be, above all else in these circumstances, absolute thought and sensitivity to the families in question.”