Sinn Féin has dismissed criticism over breaches of COVID-19 guidelines at a funeral attended by its leadership in Belfast yesterday as “political point scoring.”
Mary Lou McDonald joined a number of prominent party members at the funeral of senior republican Bobby Storey.
Hundreds of people gathered for the funeral of the 64-year-old former IRA member in west Belfast on Tuesday.
The Northern Executive's current guidelines on funerals state that social distancing should be practised at all times and a maximum of 30 family members or friends should attend.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll McNeill said Sinn Féin have shown that they are “taking a very different approach” to public health guidelines in recent days.
“To knowingly and willingly participate in an event that was always going to have the potential to be very large and to not remove yourself from that, it just smacks of making deliberate and very different choices about how the rules are applied,” she said.
She noted that senior members like Michelle O’Neill, Pearse Doherty and Gerry Adams participated in the funeral through “multiple stages in a very close way with other people.”
“That follows up from Saturday at the Convention Centre when Michelle O’Neill travelled down for the Taoiseach’s nomination in the Convention Centre which seems to be completely unnecessary when you think about Micheál Martin not even bringing his own family, his own wife and children, to come and celebrate with him on the day that he becomes Taoiseach,” she said.
“We are moving into a stage of the COVID where everyone is trying their best to abide by the regulations to prevent a second wave.”
In response, Sinn Fein TD Matt Carthy, who also attended the funeral, accused Fine Gael of ‘political point scoring off a funeral’ which he said was a ‘new low.’
“In a despicable manner, Fine Gael are using the funeral of a very well-liked and much-loved man for political ends,” he said.
“I think that is really disappointing and I think people will see through it.”
He said organisers “did everything they could” to ensure the COVID-19 guidelines were followed but admitted the “numbers went way beyond expectations.”
“The truth of the matter is that Bobby Storey was a hugely respected person by an awful lot of people and a large number of them wanted to pay their respects,” he said.
Asked whether attending the funeral was disrespectful to the thousands of people who have stuck to public health guidelines while burying family members on both sides of the border in recent weeks, he said critics were attempting to “dehumanise” Sinn Féin members.
“Most of the people who were at that procession yesterday and were lining the streets of Belfast, also experienced [deaths],” he said.
“There is an attempt by people like Jennifer to dehumanise republicans and Sinn Féin members as if we haven’t been through the same stresses and anxieties as every other member of the community over the last number of months.
“The restrictions have been eased so […] I made a personal decision to travel to be at the graveyard, again unknowing of the huge numbers of people who made the exact same decision as me.
“The reason I did that was because Bobby Story was a friend of mine. He was somebody I liked, somebody who had been a confidant of mine for many years.”
Deputy Carroll McNeill said we have all “experienced grief and difficulty in recent months but insisted she does not believe Sinn Féin was incapable of organising the funeral in a safe way when they “have been so famously organised in so many different ways” in the past.