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Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill resume post-Executive Covid briefings

Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister expressed regret after significant numbers watched a funeral cortege passing through west Belfast in June.

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A row with the DUP over the Bobby Storey funeral had stymied joint public press conferences by the leaders of Northern Ireland’s powersharing adminstration at a key time during their response to the pandemic (Liam McBurney/PA).

A row with the DUP over the Bobby Storey funeral had stymied joint public press conferences by the leaders of Northern Ireland’s powersharing adminstration at a key time during their response to the pandemic (Liam McBurney/PA).

A row with the DUP over the Bobby Storey funeral had stymied joint public press conferences by the leaders of Northern Ireland’s powersharing adminstration at a key time during their response to the pandemic (Liam McBurney/PA).

Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill have shared a post-Executive meeting platform for the first time in more than two months.

A row with the DUP over the Bobby Storey funeral halted the joint public press conferences by the heads of Northern Ireland’s powersharing adminstration at a key time during their response to the pandemic.

Sinn Fein’s vice-president accepted that a large crowd at the republican funeral this summer undermined public health messaging on coronavirus.

Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister expressed regret after significant numbers watched the cortege passing through west Belfast in June.

Ms O’Neill and other senior party members attended the service.

Public gatherings were limited to hamper the spread of infection.

Ms O’Neill said: “I am glad we are standing here on this platform today at a crucial time in the fightback against Covid-19.

“We need to chart our way through what is going to be a very difficult winter.”

She rejected any suggestion the hiatus in joint press conferences had harmed the response to the health crisis.

She said they were still out delivering the same message and their policies were aligned around their approach to the virus.

Mrs Foster said: “We are putting in limited interventions to try to halt the creep of Covid-19.

“We are trying to halt that and want the public to work with us.

“That is why I am asking people to work with us and try to halt that.”

Ms O’Neill has acknowledged that Stormont’s public health messaging capacity had been undermined by the row over the funeral.

She told RTE this week: “It wasn’t my intention this would happen, but it did, I accept this and I regret this is the case.

“I accept that we have not been able to deliver clear messaging in the format that was the practice before this controversy.”

Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin and Stormont First Minister Mrs Foster welcomed the comments.

Mr Martin said the response of Sinn Fein had been one of denial for far too long and that stood in sharp contrast to the party’s response to a controversy over Irish Government figures at a golf dinner during the pandemic.

He added: “It should have happened earlier but it has happened and I welcome it.”

Northern Ireland’s First Minister said her powersharing partner did the right thing.

Mrs Foster said: “It is right that the Deputy First Minister has acknowledged the undermining of the public messaging as a result of what happened, and the deep hurt and anger that was caused as a result of Michelle O’Neill’s action.

“Those who set the rules must abide by the rules.”

Mr Storey’s funeral was investigated by police over potential breaches by mourners of social distancing rules.

Large crowds, with marshals, were present as the cortege passed through west Belfast.

Ms O’Neill initially stood by her decision to attend the service for the senior republican but did apologise to families bereaved during lockdown for any hurt caused by scenes of hundreds of people lining the route.

PA