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Editor's Viewpoint

Michelle O'Neill misstep has hurt her credibility

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Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

As the political row over whether or not Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill breached social distancing rules while attending the funeral of IRA veteran Bobby Storey, First Minister Arlene Foster made a telling intervention yesterday.

She echoed the view of the majority of people in Northern Ireland that Mrs O'Neill had made a serious misstep, and caused an untold amount of pain to ordinary people who had to bury their loved ones amid the strictest of lockdown rules.

Mrs Foster was right to call for an apology and for the Deputy First Minister to address the perception that the rules which the general public are expected to follow do not necessarily apply to those who set them.

That, quite obviously, is a very dangerous perception to allow to fester. Already there are indications that a number of loyalist bands are applying to the Parades Commission to be allowed to march around their own areas.

As Mrs Foster said, the Orange Order and other loyal orders have taken a responsible stance and said there would be no traditional parades this year.

The applications by the bands are treading on dangerous ground. While they may desire simply to play music in their own areas - and they have appealed for people not to follow them - it is difficult to control large crowds once they gather, even in their own front gardens.

Those stewarding the Storey funeral on Tuesday were unable to keep the crowds lining the footpaths the required distance apart as the cortege passed, and there is a danger the same could happen if bands take to the streets of their own areas.

The First Minister, who yesterday warned that two wrongs don't make a right, was showing leadership, as has the Orange Order, Black Preceptory and Apprentice Boys in cancelling traditional parades.

Such is the popularity of the Twelfth celebrations among a section of the community they were bound to attract huge crowds which, almost inevitably, would have led to a spike in new coronavirus infections.

The fear now is that if people do not follow the request by bands to simply watch their parades there could still be new infections.

Given the leadership shown by others, Mrs O'Neill should attempt to restore credibility in her own advice to the public to obey the Executive's guidelines.

Belfast Telegraph