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Mourners at funeral procession ‘blatantly ignored’ virus advice

Former Sinn Fein councillor and businessman Francie McNally was buried at St Patrick’s Church, Ballinderry, Mid Ulster.

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A police investigation is under way (Niall Carson/PA)

A police investigation is under way (Niall Carson/PA)

A police investigation is under way (Niall Carson/PA)

Mourners at the funeral procession of a former Sinn Fein councillor “blatantly ignored” advice to limit coronavirus spread, police said.

Images of the procession as Francie McNally was taken for burial in Northern Ireland have been posted online. A large crowd can be seen gathered.

Detectives have begun an investigation.

We are living in unprecedented times and the social distancing rules introduced by the Government are there for a reason - to save livesSuperintendent Mike Baird

Superintendent Mike Baird said: “It is very disappointing to see some people blatantly ignored health advice and breached current legislation by attending the funeral and, in doing so, they not only put themselves at risk but also put at risk close family members of the deceased and those officiating at the funeral.”

The former public representative and businessman was buried at St Patrick’s Church, Ballinderry, Mid Ulster.

His family had previously assured officers that only family members would attend and that people may pay their respects as the funeral cortege passed by coming out into their gardens or the front of their homes.

An investigation is under way and a file is being prepared for submission to the Public Prosecution Service for any breaches of the new laws around social distancing, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said.

Mr McNally was a Sinn Fein councillor in the 1980s. He had run the pub McNally’s Inn near Toomebridge and was a popular figure locally.

His family had ordered that the wake be strictly private to protect the community, and no funeral mass took place.

A mass will be held at a later date, the funeral notice said.

Mr Baird added: “We are living in unprecedented times and the social distancing rules introduced by the Government are there for a reason – to save lives.

“I would urge all people to play their part to keep people safe during this global health emergency crisis.”

Father Peter Donnelly said 10 immediate family members were present at the burial.

The grief of all families who have lost a loved one at the current time is exacerbated by the stringent measures which have been put in placeDUP Assembly member Keith Buchanan

He told the PA news agency: “Church guidelines and the law of the land were observed and upheld.

“I had no prior knowledge or involvement with anything else that may have happened.

“I am concerned solely with the burial and that was conducted in line with the regulations that are current.”

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne said those who flouted the rules were “selfish”.

DUP Assembly member Keith Buchanan said the procession raised serious questions.

He said: “There was an organised party of men accompanying the coffin alongside a relatively large gathering of other people in attendance.

“The grief of all families who have lost a loved one at the current time is exacerbated by the stringent measures which have been put in place.

“However, those regulations apply to everyone regardless of status.”

PA