| 19.5°C Belfast

Police probe after 500 present at republican funeral in west Belfast

Close

Last week the republican funeral of former Sinn Fein councillor Francie McNally in Ballinderry attracted a large
number of mourners

Last week the republican funeral of former Sinn Fein councillor Francie McNally in Ballinderry attracted a large number of mourners

Last week the republican funeral of former Sinn Fein councillor Francie McNally in Ballinderry attracted a large number of mourners

The PSNI has launched an investigation into the gathering of up to 500 mourners for a republican funeral procession in west Belfast.

A senior officer said those who stood outside a property in Lenadoon Avenue on Wednesday afternoon had put themselves and the wider community - as well as health workers - at risk by flouting the social distancing rules.

The Belfast Telegraph reported that an eyewitness had criticised officers for apparently failing to break up the crowd after observing officers in a vehicle at the scene.

The person branded the gathering as "disgraceful", adding that it was shocking to see so many people standing in close proximity.

The probe comes as the PSNI investigates claims of breaches at recent funerals of Sinn Fein members in Belfast and Tyrone where images showed the number of mourners appearing to far exceed those allowed.

The new rules mean that a maximum of 10 close family members can be present - socially distanced - at private services and subsequent committals at cemeteries, while Roselawn crematorium is out of bounds to all mourners. Death notices in newspapers no longer carry details about the timings of funerals and where they're being held.

Councils across Northern Ireland have also closed off cemeteries to the public.

First Minister Arlene Foster on Thursday said funerals attended by large funerals was entirely "wrong".

Speaking on BBC's Good Morning Ulster, Mrs Foster said: "When I see some funerals over the past 10 days with huge numbers at them, I have to say that I do worry about those who attend those funerals.

"They are putting themselves at risk and their communities at risk and that is wrong."

Close

Worry: Jim Allister

Worry: Jim Allister

Worry: Jim Allister

Meanwhile, Jim Allister, the TUV leader, said the gathering was an "insult" to other grieving families who had been adhering to the rules.

"This is grossly offensive and insulting to the many law-abiding people who have made the huge sacrifice of foregoing a normal funeral as they said farewell to family member who died recently," he said.

Mr Allister also hit out at the PSNI for not taking direct steps to disperse the crowd at the time.

"Police are adding to the pain of these people by failing to act swiftly and robustly when republicans act as if they are above the law," he said.

Referring to the funeral last week of former Sinn Fein councillor Francie McNally at which 200 people turned out in Ballinderry, Co Tyrone, the TUV leader demanded the PSNI disclose if any arrests or fines have been made.

"They need to urgently tell the public what action they have taken in relation to the funeral in Ballinderry," he added.

He said it would be "outrageous" if the PSNI were not to take action in response to these gatherings.

"When I voted for the regulations to be bought in I did so in the belief that they applied to everyone. It is about time the PSNI took the same view," said Mr Allister.

In response, PSNI chief inspector Gary Reid said officers responded to reports of a "large funeral procession" in west Belfast on Wednesday afternoon.

"Those people who attended have put themselves, the local community and our NHS colleagues at more risk due to the potential spread of coronavirus," he said.

"An investigation is now under way and any evidence of breaches of Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) Regulations NI 2020 will be gathered for consideration of submission to the Public Prosecution Service."

The officer added: "I would also appeal to anyone who has any imagery or footage, or are aware of those who contravened the regulations and put other lives at risk to call us on 101."

"Once again, I would remind everyone that it is essential that we all respect the current health and current legislation.

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

Belfast Telegraph