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Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill speaks alongside Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty during the funeral of senior republican figure Bobby Storey. Liam McBurney/PA
bobby storey

'A friend of ours has passed away': Pearse Doherty defends attending Bobby Storey funeral

The Sinn Féin TD said he believes the senior republican’s funeral is now being politicised.

SINN FÉIN’S PEARSE Doherty has defended attending the funeral of senior republican Bobby Storey after images showed a large crowd lining the streets and gathering for a commemoration.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Today with Sarah McInerney, Doherty said he had been asked by Storey’s family to attend and the funeral cortege had been restricted to 30 people.

He said he believes the funeral “of a friend of ours who has passed away” is now being politicised. 

Sinn Fein party president Mary Lou McDonald, Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and former party president Gerry Adams were among high-profile party members who were also in attendance at the service and later a commemoration event at Milltown cemetery.

The North’s health minister, unionist Robin Swann, has said the large number of attendees at the funeral was a clear breach of Stormont restrictions limiting public gatherings to 30 people. 

The PSNI is now reviewing footage of the funeral and will consider any suspected breaches of the coronavirus legislation. Stormont’s First Minister Arlene Foster has also called on the Deputy First Minister to apologise.

This morning Pearse Doherty defended his own decision to attend, stating that marshals were in place to encourage social distancing and the funeral was streamed online so people could stay home and view it. He also said there had been engagement with the PSNI ahead of the funeral. 

“Bobby was a very close friend to the people who were there,” he said. 

He said it was “of concern” that large crowds from the community had gathered behind the guard of honour on the streets as many were not social distancing. However he rejected the suggestion that fewer people would have turned up if senior Sinn Féin figures were not in attendance.

Liam McBurney / PA Liam McBurney / PA / PA

“People didn’t come to see me or Mary Lou McDonals, people came out because of Bobby Storey and because they wanted to show their respect.”

He said “tens of thousands more” would have come if it had not been streamed on social media. 

Doherty also accused critics of “trying to politicise the death of somebody who was a close friend to people and whose family is grieving”. 

‘She needs to apologise’

Arlene Foster has said the scenes at the funeral had “undermined the credibility” of Stormont’s Covid-19 guidance.

The DUP leader said it sent out a message of “do as I say and not as I do”.

“She needs to apologise and recognise the wrong that has been done and she absolutely needs to make amends for what happened yesterday and take steps to try and build up that credibility again,” said Foster.

“It is really regretful that we are talking about this today.

“Many people have had to go to through mourning and grief during this time and haven’t had the comfort of people coming to their homes, they haven’t had the comfort of a full service, yesterday they asked ‘well why was that the case?’.”

O’Neill said the funeral had taken place “in accordance” with coronavirus guidelines.

She has defended the event, saying the cortege only had 30 people in it and social distancing inside the church was “exemplary”.

- With reporting by PA. 

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