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Editor's Viewpoint

Byrne's move could end funeral impasse



Simon Byrne

Simon Byrne

Simon Byrne

As the political row continues over who did what at the funeral of veteran republican Bobby Storey, a possible key to unlocking the impasse has emerged.

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne has asked for an external police officer to investigate possible breaches of the Covid-19 restrictions at the funeral and also to look into police handling of the funeral.

This is a sensible move by the Chief Constable given that the political row has developed into finger-pointing and the passing of impotent motions of criticism of Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill for attending the funeral and breaching rules while at the same time urging the public to adhere to those same rules on numbers involved and social distancing.

While all the parties at Stormont say the row, no matter how poisonous, will not bring down the Executive, it is a further indication of how brittle relationships are between the two major parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein.

At times it bears an uneasy resemblance to the RHI cash for ash debacle which led to the Executive being brought down and lying in abeyance for three years.

That is something which cannot be countenanced at this time when Northern Ireland is still in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The Executive and the general public deserve great credit for containing the virus but with more and more rules being relaxed there remains the fear of a second spike in infections later this year which could be compounded by the normal annual flu epidemic.

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The atmosphere at Stormont at the moment is febrile, with the First and Deputy First Ministers not appearing together for press briefings. In Northern Ireland politics appearances are everything and such open hostility between the joint leaders of the power-sharing administration sits poorly in the public gaze.

The unique form of government in the province means that no matter what ministers do or are accused of doing they cannot be forced out of office and the current arguments are therefore simply so much shadow boxing.

The Chief Constable's decision to bring in an outside, independent officer to examine the background to the row could be a game-changer provided there is goodwill among the various parties to accept the finding of the officer when he/she completes the investigation. Then the Executive can go back to its primary concern, combating coronavirus.

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