First Minister Arlene Foster has said no report will take away the hurt felt by families who were treated differently by Belfast City Council to those attending the cremation of Bobby Storey last year.
She was speaking following the publication of an independent report into the council's handling of the leading IRA man's service. The DUP, Ulster Unionists, Alliance and the SDLP said questions still remain over the matter.
Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy said he recognised that "trauma was added to the pain" felt by families, including Mr Storey's.
Mr Storey died on June 21 last year, and events on the day of his funeral, on June 30, remain deeply controversial.
There was criticism of the deputy First Minister, Michelle O'Neill, and other senior Sinn Fein figures who attended the event, amid claims they broke coronavirus guidelines.
The cremation which followed caused further anger with allegations the Storey family received preferential treatment.
Barrister Peter Coll's probe investigated how Mr Storey's relatives were treated differently to eight other families whose loved ones were cremated on the same day.
The other families were kept at the gates of Roselawn Crematorium, while up to 30 mourners were allowed inside to attend the service for Mr Storey. Changes to the coronavirus regulations, which came into effect at 11pm on June 29, relaxed the restriction on the numbers allowed to gather outdoors from 10 to 30 people. The city council has apologised to the families affected.
The report, which runs to 116 pages, found no evidence the Storey service was handled differently due to his connections to Sinn Fein and no evidence of political influence directed upon council chief executive Suzanne Wylie over the cremation.
Mr Coll did find, however, that the "differential in treatment should have been realised by all involved on an organisational level".
"The differential in arrangements for the cremations that day was avoidable, unnecessary and completely wrong and steps should have been taken to prevent the differential arising in practice," he said.
The report was presented to the families affected and council party group leaders yesterday morning.
Mr Coll said in the conclusion to his report that it would appear that the change in the Covid regulations that allowed 30 people to attend outdoor gatherings was brought forward from July 6 as it was recognised that Mr Storey's cremation "was a potentially high-profile event".
"In that sense, and having heard the evidence of the managerial level decision-makers involved, it appears to me that the evidence does not establish that the determining factor for the difference in treatment was Mr Storey's status as a former senior member of Sinn Fein per se, nor that in some way Sinn Fein had applied pressure to have the change regarding committal services brought about to the benefit of the arrangements to be applied to the Storey cremation," he said.
He found, however, that: "All the cremations on that day could and should have been treated in the same fashion. It is the case that some of the necessary practicalities governing the expanded arrangements would have been difficult to put in place for the earlier cremations on June 30. There is certainly no evidence of what could come close to being described as a 'takeover' of Roselawn by those acting on behalf of the family," he concluded.
After the meeting, Sinn Fein council group leader Ciaran Beattie said his party were effectively exonerated by the report.
"All of the families involved, including the Storey family, were put through more grief and trauma by the controversy created around this and I hope that with the publication of this report their questions will be answered and they can now grieve in peace," he added.
Mrs Foster said: "No report of any nature is going to take away the hurt and pain that those families felt when they found out they were being treated differently. The rules are there for everyone they were treated differently and my thoughts are with them."
The DUP, Ulster Unionists, Alliance and SDLP council teams have said questions over the saga still remain. In a joint statement, BCC party group leaders said they recognised that what happened was "unacceptable and we apologise wholeheartedly and unreservedly".