Health Minister Robin Swann says funeral of former IRA man was "clear breach" of coronavirus restrictions
The PSNI is reviewing footage of the funeral of prominent republican Bobby Storey in west Belfast for any suspected breaches of coronavirus regulations.
Hundreds of people attended the funeral of the former IRA man, who was laid to rest in the republican plot at Milltown Cemetery after Requiem Mass at St Agnes church in west Belfast.
The funeral- which was attended by deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill - has created a political row, with Health Minister Robin Swann saying he believed the funeral breached Covid-19 restrictions around mass gatherings.
However Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy said that every effort had been made to follow regulations at the funeral.
Currently up to 30 people are allowed to meet outside while social distancing.
Speaking during a Stormont press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Swann said that he did not want any part of Northern Ireland to become "another Leicester", which has had to tightened lockdown measures after a spike in cases.
"There is no person, no position and there is no point of privilege that is above the guidance and the regulations that we have laid down on how we combat Covid-19 in Northern Ireland," Mr Swann said.
"There is no one immune from it and that is the guidance that we still have to keep reiterating. I do hope that what we saw today does not undermine the public message that has worked so well in Northern Ireland, that has got us to the position where we are today."
Asked if he believed the funeral was a breach of coronavirus restrictions, Mr Swann said: "Yes, very clearly, with the images that are coming out from Belfast today. Whether deliberate or undeliberate- the regulations that we have put in place are there to save lives."
Northern Ireland chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride said: "The guidance and the regulations are there for good reason, it is about keeping people safe and it is about saving lives.
"It is not for me as chief medical officer to comment on issues around enforcement of the regulations, that is for others. I didn't see the pictures myself but clearly where we have large numbers of people coming together in close proximity and if there isn't appropriate social distancing then that does increase risk of transmission of Covid-19."
Mr Murphy said that Mr Storey had been given a "very dignified" funeral.
Stormont's Finance Minister said that he attended the funeral and "the cortege was kept in with the guidance that has been issued in terms of 30 people".
"The mass that I was at was restricted in terms of access, there was social distancing observed during the course of the mass," he told UTV.
The Sinn Fein MLA said the funeral arrangements had been posted online to discourage people from breaching the regulations.
"We thoroughly expected a huge number of people to turn out to attend that funeral," Mr Murphy said.
"Trying to manage such big crowds and keep to the guidance was something that was very much the determination of those organising the funeral and I think that's what they did."
Mr Murphy rejected suggestions that the funeral could have a "Dominic Cummings effect' and discourage people from following public health guidelines.
"This clearly is a very, very popular figure within republicanism, it was clearly going to be a very significant funeral and all efforts were made to try and manage that in line with the guidance," Mr Murphy said.
Asked about other families who had to make sacrifices around funerals Mr Murphy responded that a number of family members were unable to take part in the cortege and a traditional wake could not be held.
The PSNI told the Belfast Telegraph that it had engaged with the celebrant and service organisers to highlight the public health advice and risks around Covid-19, and the requirement for those attending to adhere to social distancing.
Superintendent Melanie Jones said: "We had assurances that those attending would observe the health guidelines and that marshals would be in place to encourage those lining the cortege route to observe social distancing.
“We will now review footage gathered during the funeral and will consider any suspected breaches of the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) Regulations NI 2020.”
Mr Storey was a senior figure in Sinn Fein and the IRA, rising to become the IRA’s director of intelligence and the northern chairman of Sinn Fein. He spent many years in jail for various offences, and played a key role in the mass IRA breakout from the Maze Prison in 1983.
He died last week aged 64 after an unsuccessful lung transplant operation.