In the end, there wasn’t even a slap on the wrist.
Five months of PSNI investigation and interviews, three months of Public Prosecution Service deliberations... and no prosecutions.
The political ramifications of this decision, which went against the recommendations of the Chief Constable, will, predictably, continue for a long time — but what about the public?
Was it in the ‘public’ interest not to prosecute? After all, the fines imposed on ordinary Joes over the past year were, supposedly, done in the public interest, so why not this?
And why can’t those punished offenders now appeal, quoting PPS Director Stephen Herron’s own words that the health protection regulations at the time were “extremely difficult to navigate” and “inconsistent”?
Ironically, the only ‘consistency’ from the PPS appears to be in not prosecuting anyone involved in high profile funerals while the rest stick rigidly to the rules despite the heartbreak of losing loved ones during the pandemic.
Bobby Storey would surely be shocked at the thought that this furore would rise again, phoenix-like, nine months after his cremation.
It was mid-December when the PSNI submitted a file to the PPS following a lengthy investigation, overseen by Cumbria deputy chief constable Mark Webster, into potential breaches of health restrictions at the high-profile event in west Belfast, attended by most of Sinn Fein’s hierarchy.
Some 24 people suspected of having breached the regulations — all members of Sinn Fein — were interviewed, including Michelle O’Neill, the deputy First Minister.
Rival parties called on her to resign but statements of regret that the health message had been compromised were all they were ever going to get.
It was early summer when thousands lined the streets as the remains of Mr Storey — a former IRA hardman — were taken from St Agnes’ Church on Andersonstown Road to Milltown Cemetery on the Falls.
Large republican funerals in west Belfast are nothing new and Mr Storey, who masterminded the notorious Maze escape in 1983 and acted as head of intelligence for the IRA in the mid-1990s, was never going to have a quiet send-off.
The 64-year-old north Belfast man, who joined the Provisional IRA in 1972 and was subsequently interned, was a close friend of the former Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.
He was sentenced to 18 years in the Maze in 1981 for possession of a rifle following an attack on Army personnel and was one of 38 republican prisoners who broke out of the maximum-security prison two years later.
Security forces had linked him to several major incidents, including the £26m Northern Bank robbery in 2004.
He was also regarded as a crucial element in selling the peace process to republican hardliners.
His funeral, however, took place in the middle of the first Covid-19 lockdown, when regulations stated that no more than 30 people could gather outdoors.
One of the two main faces of those regulations was the deputy First Minister, who was part of the funeral cortege on June 30.
Ms O’Neill also attended Requiem Mass at St Agnes’ with more than 100 other mourners and later, when strict social distancing had become almost second nature, posed for a close-proximity photograph with a mourner at Milltown.
Not surprisingly, the Sinn Fein northern leader’s behaviour that day attracted fierce criticism from, among others, First Minister Arlene Foster, who questioned her fitness for office and demanded an apology.
The anger was understandable, with Ms O’Neill having repeatedly urged the public to adhere to social distancing guidelines and then apparently contravening the very rules she had helped set.
While she apologised for posing for the photo, which “took place in a blink of an eye and shouldn’t have happened”, there was no remorse for attending the funeral at a time when others had been prevented from paying their respects to loved ones.
Both Sinn Fein and Ms O’Neill maintained that they had acted within the guidelines and broken no rules, the party itself insisting that the cortege itself contained no more than 30 people, all of whom had maintained social distancing.
She did, however, express regret — which was reiterated today — that other grieving families were “experiencing more hurt over recent days”, adding: “I am sorry for that.”
This wasn’t enough to pacify Mrs Foster, who brought to an end to their joint Covid-19 press conferences.
That same day, this newspaper revealed that, rather than being buried at Milltown, the veteran republican’s remains had actually been taken for cremation at Roselawn Cemetery, which is run by Belfast City Council. This newspaper also reported that some council staff had been sent home early, leaving Sinn Fein effectively in control of the premises.
The council later admitted “an operational decision” had been made to postpone other planned cremations that afternoon.
This revelation prompted even more controversy than the earlier ‘funeral’ in west Belfast.
It later emerged that 28 mourners had attended the cremation, which was free from paramilitary trappings.
The families denied access to cremations that day were offered compensation by the council, which apologised to them individually “for the hurt and distressed caused, and to offer to support them in whatever way we can”.
It is understood, however, that at least one of the eight families later issued legal proceedings against the council, believing that the decisions taken that day were unlawful.
Council chief executive Suzanne Wylie and director Nigel Grimshaw also issued a joint personal statement apologising for what happened at Roselawn.
Several weeks later, Mr Grimshaw, who had been responsible for city and neighbourhood services and who had made the decision to allow up to 30 mourners at Mr Storey’s cremation, retired “by mutual agreement”.
An internal council report said Mr Grimshaw acknowledged that it was “a mistake for which he takes responsibility”.
In February, an independent report into how the council organised the cremation found Sinn Fein did not pressurise the council to give his family special treatment. It also rejected suggestions there had been a “takeover” of Roselawn cemetery.
Regardless, it is difficult to understate the political damage done in the wake of the Storey funeral.
It was September before the First and Deputy First Ministers resumed their joint press conferences, following a reconciliatory statement from the latter issued on RTE.
Standing alongside her partner in government, Mrs O’Neill said: “I do accept the public messaging about the pandemic has been undermined by the controversy over the last number of months. It was never my intention that that would happen, but it did and I regret that.
“I want to rebuild trust with the public as we have the most challenging times ahead of us on many levels in the coming weeks and months and we must work together for the common good.”
Although it stopped short of the apology her unionist detractors had demanded, Ms O’Neill’s comments were accepted as enough for the two women to move on from the controversy and focus on delivering the joint public health messages, which are continuing today.
The DUP leader said she believed Ms O’Neill’s actions on June 30 had undermined their public messaging but “there has been an acknowledgement and regret for what happened at the time, and I acknowledge that”.
Despite the apparent entente cordiale, there have, however, been some awkward moments since the pair publicly reconciled for the greater good in the autumn, most notably when the DUP used the contentious petition of concern mechanism last November to stop the Executive endorsing tighter restrictions requested by Health Minister Robin Swann and backed by Mrs O’Neill.
The Sinn Fein leader was, however, accused of displaying “brass-neck hypocrisy” just before Christmas after claiming on RTE that she had “never deviated” from public health advice.
She also accused the DUP of working against the Executive and its public health team, a claim rejected by Mrs Foster, who laid part of the blame for Northern Ireland’s new six-week lockdown on Sinn Fein politicians’ attitude and behaviour at the controversial Storey funeral.
Also in December, there were renewed claims that the PSNI failed to meet its responsibilities by handing over the effective policing of the funeral to Sinn Fein, after Chief Constable Simon Byrne said there would have been “widespread violence and disorder” if police had tried to stop or disperse the crowds.
Mr Byrne would not, however, be drawn on the extent of any advance planning between the PSNI and Sinn Fein as to how the funeral should be managed, and the extent of any deliberations remains unclear.
Today’s developments eclipsed another noteworthy story — that the PSNI were investigating potential breaches of Covid restrictions, and parades legislation, following Sunday’s well-attended walk in Belfast in honour of tragic teenager Noah Donohoe.
After today’s announcement, it remains to be seen whether “no action” will be taken there either.