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Bobby Storey funeral: North's prosecution service confirms review of decision not to pursue individuals

The funeral was one of the most controversial events to occur during the pandemic in the North.

The funeral procession of senior Irish Republican and former leading IRA figure Bobby Storey
The funeral procession of senior Irish Republican and former leading IRA figure Bobby Storey
Image: Liam McBurney via PA Images

NORTHERN IRELAND’S PUBLIC Prosecution Service is to review its decision not to recommended the prosecution of any individuals for alleged breaches of Covid-19 regulations following the funeral of senior republican Bobby Storey in west Belfast last June. 

Sinn Féin vice president and Stormont deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill was among those interviewed by police over the scenes at Bobby Storey’s funeral in west Belfast in June last year.

O’Neill yesterday apologised for what she said was the hurt caused to families as a result of the incident.

DUP leader Arlene Foster reacted angrily to the decision announced yesterday not to prosecute, calling the situation “absurd” and calling for PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne to resign. Foster said that she telephoned Byrne yesterday afternoon to express that view. 

The Public Prosecution Service had been considering police evidence files on 24 individuals relating to the Storey, including several senior members of Sinn Féin. 

In a statement today, Director of Public Prosecutions Stephen Herron said that the PPS has concluded that it could not prove to the required standard that there were breaches of the regulations. 

In total, the PPS was considering evidence in relation to four funerals and said yesterday that it would be prosecuting two individuals reported in connection with attendance at the funeral on Sinn Féin councillor Francie McNally in Co Tyrone in April 2020.

In relation to the Storey funeral, Herron said that evidential test for prosecution has not been met in relation to any of the individuals. 

However, in a statement this afternoon, the PPS confirmed that it has now received “a number of requests to review the decisions taken not to prosecute 24 individuals reported by PSNI”. 

The requests include one from an elected representative on behalf of a member of the public, the PPS said. 

“In like with the procedure set out in the PPS Code for Prosecutors, this process will be carried out by a senior PPS lawyer who was not involved in taking the original decisions on this file,” the PPS said. 

“This lawyer will be assisted by obtaining the advice of Senior Counsel who is independent of the PPS and was also not in any way involved in the original decisions,” the statement said. 

“We recognise that the prosecutorial decisions are one component part of more holistic concerns expressed recently, as is evident from media reporting and commentary.

“For the sake of clarity, further enquiry around why the Regulations were amended in short succession before and after the funeral or the conduct of police in engaging with funeral organisers will largely be beyond the scope of any prosecutorial review, save for any bearing they have on whether or not the Test for Prosecution is considered to be met,” the PPS said.

“In terms of any request for further clarification of the PPS decision rationale which issued yesterday, we will not be in a position to provide further comment over and above our public statement given that a review of the decisions is to be conducted imminently.”

Background 

The funeral of the high-profile republican and former IRA leader was one of the most controversial events to occur during the coronavirus pandemic in Northern Ireland.

More than 1,000 people lined the streets for Storey’s funeral procession at a time when strict limits on such events were in place.

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The attendance of Sinn Féin leaders at the funeral and a subsequent memorial event at nearby Milltown Cemetery sparked a major political row at Stormont, with the republican party accused of disregarding rules they set for the rest of society.

O’Neill, party president Mary Lou McDonald, former president Gerry Adams, Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy, TD Pearse Doherty, Policing Board members Gerry Kelly and Linda Dillon, and MLA Martina Anderson were among senior republicans who attended.

It is understood the police files under consideration by the PPS did not feature individuals resident in the Republic of Ireland.

Storey was not buried at Milltown but was instead cremated at Roselawn Cemetery on the other side of Belfast in a separate event which generated its own controversy.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland commissioned Mark Webster, Deputy Chief Constable of Cumbria Police, to oversee its investigation into the events around the funeral.

Commanders sought external direction as those who attended the funeral included Sinn Fein members of the Policing Board, which is the police’s oversight body.

With reporting by Press Assocation

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