Irish political party accused of breaching coronavirus restrictions at funeral – dpa international


One of the main streets in Enniskillen, a mixed Catholic-Protestant commercial center about 10 miles inside Northern Ireland. The town’s Catholic Church rises on the left, with the main Anglican church opposite (Simon Roughneen)

Leaders of Irish political party Sinn Féin were among hundreds of people who gathered in Belfast on Tuesday for the funeral of Bobby Storey, a senior figure in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) who died nine days ago aged 64.

After the funeral was criticised on social media for seeming to breach social distancing rules meant to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus in Northern Ireland, some of Sinn Féin’s political rivals took aim.

Northern Ireland’s Health Minister Robin Swann, a member of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), said at a Tuesday press conference that “no person” is “above the regulations and guidance we have laid down on how we combat Covid-19.”

Funeral attendances should be limited to ten people, the regulations state.

Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) parliamentarian Gregory Campbell called for “police action,” claiming that Sinn Féin leaders “showed no respect” for the restrictions – which it previously said should be applied without exemption.

A police spokeswoman later told The Belfast Telegraph newspaper that officers will review footage of the funeral.

Though Sinn Féin shares control of Northern Ireland’s devolved administration with the DUP, the two parties are ideological rivals. The DUP – and Swann’s UUP – oppose Sinn Féin’s aim of ending British rule in Northern Ireland.

Sinn Féin wants the region to be subsumed into the Republic of Ireland, where it leads the opposition after winning the most votes in parliamentary elections held before the pandemic hit the island.

Since then Northern Ireland has reported 5,769 coronavirus cases and 551 related deaths. Twenty-three cases have been diagnosed over the past week, suggesting the outbreak is waning.

Several other events have been staged across Northern Ireland in recent weeks that breached social distancing rules, such as Black Lives Matters protests held in June and funerals for other ex-paramilitaries who were less well known than Storey.

Before his death, which was attributed to illness and to complications arising from a lung transplant, Storey had long been described as part of the IRA leadership, with a 2005 claim made under Westminster parliamentary privilege that he was the organisation’s head of intelligence.

Mary Lou McDonald, the Sinn Féin leader, said at the funeral that Storey “was extremely committed to the pursuit of a united Ireland with equality and social justice for all.”

Gerry Adams, McDonald’s predecessor, told mourners gathered at Milltown Catholic Cemetery in Belfast that in 1970 the young Storey “was politicized by his experience” at the hands of British soldiers deployed to Belfast shortly after  the onset of what spiralled into three decades of conflict known as “The Troubles.”

Storey spent much of the 1970s and 1980s in prison, incarcerations that included two years of internment and his leading role in a mass prison escape in 1983. He later supported the IRA’s decision during the 1990s to end its violent campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland and endorsed Sinn Féin’s peace negotiations with the London government and unionists.

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