Further questions about Bobby Storey’s funeral have been raised after it emerged the veteran republican was cremated in a different part of Belfast to where a major graveyard ceremony was held.
It has emerged that some cemetery staff were sent home early ahead of the cremation at Roselawn in east Belfast at 3.30pm on Tuesday.
Hours earlier, crowds gathered inside Milltown cemetery in the west of the city for a ceremony for the former leading IRA figure following in his funeral at St Agnes’ church.
Hundreds lined the route as the cortege proceeded more than a mile from St Agnes’ to Milltown.
The Ulster Unionist Party has asked why the Milltown cemetery event was held, amid the current lockdown restrictions, if Mr Storey was cremated elsewhere.
While it is understood some Belfast City Council staff remained at Roselawn for Mr Storey’s cremation – including park wardens, managers and crematorium staff – a number of stewards nominated by the Storey family took responsibility for identifying those people who had been invited to the private event.
Time slots for later burials and cremations after Mr Storey’s cremation were blocked off on the Roselawn booking system. It is understood that is the approach taken for high profile funerals that might attract large crowds.
It is understood the burial staff were sent home an hour early at 3pm. There were no further burials planned at the cemetery on Tuesday.
Some other members of staff were also sent home at this time.
Visiting time at Roselawn cemetery is currently restricted during the lockdown, so people wishing to visit graves on Tuesday afternoon would not have been able to access the site whether or not Mr Storey’s cremation was taking place.
Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie said: “The news that Bobby Storey was cremated in Roselawn cemetery on Tuesday raises a number of questions for Sinn Fein.
“Firstly, why – in the midst of a global pandemic – did they feel the need to call hundreds of people onto the streets of west Belfast if the plan all along was to hold a cremation ceremony several miles away in the east of the city?
“And secondly – what was the point in taking a coffin to a graveyard only to then transport it to a crematorium? Were people’s lives really put at risk from Covid-19 just so Gerry Adams could perform a speaking engagement in Milltown cemetery?
“If people were angry at Sinn Fein due to the lack of social distancing on display at the funeral, they will be furious to learn that the procession to Milltown was nothing more than a needless piece of republican street theatre, and that the real destination was Roselawn all along.”
Belfast City Council said it does not comment on individual cremations.