Sinn Féin leadership criticised over Bobby Storey funeral

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Senior Sinn Féin politicians have been criticised after attending the funeral of veteran republican Bobby Storey.

The funeral in west Belfast on Tuesday attracted hundreds of mourners, despite coronavirus regulations stating a maximum of 30 people are allowed to gather together outdoors.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill and Finance Minister Conor Murphy were among those present.

DUP MP Gregory Campbell said no-one should be exempt from the regulations.

Ms O'Neill was asked about the funeral during Monday's coronavirus briefing at Stormont.

She said: "Everyone who is attending the funeral should observe the public health advice."

Health Minister Robin Swann said he had "concerns in regards to a breakdown, or people failing to observe the guidance the executive has given collectively".

There have been a number of events which have been criticised for attracting crowds during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In May a senior police officer said there had been social-distancing breaches at funerals in both the unionist and nationalist communities.

Earlier in June, protestors at Black Lives Matter rallies in Belfast and Londonderry were fined, while several hundred people took part in a "save our statues" rally at Belfast City Hall.

Mr Campbell, MP for East Londonderry, said he had raised concerns with the chief constable ahead of the funeral.

He said: "The law must be upheld, that must not only happen but be seen to happen.

"We will all be able to see people there who we know and the police will know.

"They need to be questioned and if there are breaches of legislation, whether inside the property or outside, then they need to be pursued and the prosecution service need to be informed and if there is sufficient evidence prosecutions must follow whatever the standing of any person who's found guilty of an offence.

"No-one should expect to get a bye-ball because of their position."

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, former leader Gerry Adams and Northern Ireland Assembly members (MLAs) Gerry Kelly and Martina Anderson also attended the funeral.

The party has been contacted by the BBC for a response.

Mr Swann said it was important the executive - made up of the DUP, Sinn Féin, the SDLP, UUP and Alliance - was seen to be "standing together giving a consistent message".

Speaking at the health committee, he said: "The advice, the guidance is there for a reason.

"I've said it before, there's no person, there's no point of privilege that puts anyone above the advice and guidance that this executive, this assembly, and our medical professionals have given us how we manage this."

At the scene: 'Social distancing was impossible'

By Julian O'Neill, BBC News NI Home Affairs Correspondent

This was a large scale public event.

Roads and streets were closed off and Sinn Féin stewards were used to try to control things.

But such were the numbers, social distancing was impossible.

Access to the church was restricted, but those attending far exceeded guidelines.

Among those who went inside was Sinn Féin's hierarchy, including Michelle O'Neill and Mary Lou McDonald.

They were filmed going in without masks.

When they emerged afterwards they, like some mourners, had them on.

The only PSNI officers seen in the vicinity of the church looked to be on traffic duties.

Speaking in the assembly, Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister of the TUV also said the executive's credibility had been undermined by the appearance of the deputy first minister and other MLAs "in flagrant breach, it would appear, of some of those regulations".

Mr Storey died at the age of 64 following a period of illness.

He was considered the head of intelligence of the IRA for a period from the mid-1990s and was named as such under parliamentary privilege.

Security sources linked him to several major incidents, including the £26m Northern Bank robbery in 2004.