Belfast Telegraph

Vote to waive burial charge for children 'bittersweet' win for grieving councillor

By Rebecca Black

A council has agreed to waive part of the burial fee for grieving parents who have lost a child.

Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council voted unanimously on Monday night in favour of the proposal brought by Ulster Unionist Julie Flaherty, who herself lost a child.

It will now not charge for opening a grave for the burial of a child at council-owned cemeteries.

Moves are under way at seven other councils in Northern Ireland to introduce a similar measure.

Ms Flaherty told the Belfast Telegraph she had received assurances from councillors in Belfast; Newry, Mourne and Down; Mid and East Antrim; Lisburn and Castlereagh; Ards and North Down; Antrim and Newtownabbey, and Causeway Coast and Glens.

Belfast City Council will hear a proposal to this end at its monthly meeting next week.

Ms Flaherty described the vote at Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon as a first step, voicing her determination to fight for full funeral costs for children to be met, similar to the Children's Funeral Fund in England.

Speaking about the unanimous support she received on Monday from her council colleagues across the political spectrum, and also letters from the public, she said it was a "bittersweet" moment.

"I was very emotional after the gavel went down, I had to step out of the room for a minute," she explained.

"The support from all the other councillors was just amazing."

The passing of the motion means that Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council will now cover the £52 cost of opening a grave at all council-owned cemeteries for the burial of anyone under the age of 18.

The council said: "There was an agreement made at full council last night in relation to the Children's Funeral Fund.

"Plans are now being put in place to develop the necessary protocols in order to implement the council's decision as soon as possible."

Ms Flaherty said she regarded it as a beginning, and was proud that Arnagh, Banbridge and Craigavon had led the way.

"This is just a start and sets the ball rolling, really," she said.

"I know it is a drop in the ocean compared to the Children's Funeral Fund, but it's a start.

"Without Stormont sitting, it is harder to get something done province-wide.

"But I have written to the permanent secretary at the Department for Communities and received assurances that this will be raised with the minister when ministers are in post again."

In England the cost of a child's funeral is waived under a scheme supported by Prime Minister Theresa May.

Earlier this month Mrs May intervened to create the Children's Funeral Fund after being moved by the "dignity and strength" of Swansea East MP Carolyn Harris, who had been at the forefront of the cross-party parliamentary campaign following the death of her eight-year-old son Martin.

It brought England into line with Wales, where Ms Harris' campaign saw the removal of fees for funerals for those under 18.

Ms Flaherty (40) lost her only son Jake in May 2015.

He was born with Down's syndrome and also battled other medical issues, including a congenital heart defect.

Ms Flaherty said the cost of Jake's funeral was around £4,000.

She added that when she saw media coverage of Mrs May's Children's Funeral Fund for England, she was determined to seek help for bereaved parents here.

Belfast Telegraph

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