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Editor's Viewpoint

Cemetery reopenings in Northern Ireland can be done sensibly during coronavirus lockdown

Editor's Viewpoint


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A Covid-19 sign on the entrance gates of Belmont cemetery in Antrim

A Covid-19 sign on the entrance gates of Belmont cemetery in Antrim

PA

A Covid-19 sign on the entrance gates of Belmont cemetery in Antrim

Northern Ireland is a place that takes death very seriously. That is not a trite comment, as might first appear. Death and the rites surrounding it are steeped in tradition and the current restrictions on funerals and visiting cemeteries strike at the very heart of those traditions.

This newspaper supports the general thrust of the lockdown restrictions currently in force and recognises how they are impacting positively on curbing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

But no one has felt the raw edge of those restrictions more than bereaved families. They are advised not to hold wakes. The reason for this restriction is obvious and valid, but it removes what many families regard as a cathartic process after the loss of a loved one.

Now funeral services are no longer held in churches and attendances at gravesides are restricted to 10 immediate family members - often an inadequate number given the width of many family circles.

It must often feel to the bereaved that their loved ones are being rushed off this mortal coil with barely a goodbye. It should be remembered that those who die of the virus in hospital do so in the absence of their families.

The closure of cemeteries except for burials seems to many as a further excessive burden for the bereaved to shoulder. They can argue with unanswerable validity that being allowed to visit the grave of a loved one is more important than being allowed to visit one's local off-licence.

Surely it is not beyond the wit of councils or diocesan authorities to ensure that sensible restrictions on visits to graveyards are drawn up, especially in the case of social distancing.

A visit to a cemetery is often a solitary venture which someone undertakes to remember a loved one or dear friend. It should not be a difficult task to 'police' such visits to minimise contact or possible transmission.

The Executive at Stormont is split on the issue, but this should not become a trial of strength between the parties. At a time when the national debate is turning towards possible easing of the lockdown and what circumstances would need to prevail before restrictions are lifted to even a small degree, it would seem the unlocking of cemetery gates should be among the first steps taken back towards normality. We owe it to the memory of those who died from the deadly, invisible viral enemy.

Belfast Telegraph