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Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill during the funeral of Bobby Storey at Milltown Cemetery in west Belfast. PA
bobby storey

Foster claims 'creditability of the Executive' has been undermined following O'Neill funeral controversy

O’Neill, party president Mary Lou McDonald and other prominent SF members attended the funeral on Tuesday.

LAST UPDATE | 3 Jul 2020

DUP LEADER Arlene Foster has said the “creditability of the Executive” in Northern Ireland has been undermined by Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill’s attendance at a funeral earlier this week. 

It comes as O’Neill issued a statement in which she insisted she adhered to the public health guidelines around physical distancing but apologised for any hurt the recent controversy has caused. 

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, O’Neill and other prominent Sinn Féin politicians attended the funeral of republican Bobby Storey on Tuesday.

Following discussions with the leaders of political parties in Northern Ireland, Foster criticised the deputy first minister “for [letting] people down by her actions”. 

“It is right to apologise for the hurt inflicted on many, many people but sadly there is no acknowledgement from the deputy first minister that this hurt has been caused by her actions,” she said.

“In our view the deputy first minister has not grasped the depth of feeling and widespread anger that exists across all communities in Northern Ireland. There has been no recognition that regulations and guidelines were broken and the Deputy First Minister cannot escape that reality.”

“There is no escaping the fact that trust and the creditability of the Executive messaging has been totally undermined by the Deputy First Minister and that has not been rectified by today’s comments,” she added. 

Earlier today, McDonald and O’Neill both apologised for any hurt caused to grieving families seeing large crowds at the funeral of senior republican Bobby Storey this week. 

In a press conference this afternoon, O’Neill said she would never apologise for attending Storey’s funeral.

“I will never apologise for attending the funeral of my friend,” she said, while also acknowledging that some families had been left upset.

“I would never set out to hurt any family or compound their grief at such a sad time,” she said.

“In terms of my attendance at the funeral, I am confident I can stand over the fact I worked within the guidelines and I worked within the regulations in terms of attending a requiem mass, which was allowed, and also to walk in a funeral cortege of up to 30 people.”

Northern Ireland’s five party leaders met today to try and resolve serious differences over the attendance of O’Neill at the funeral.

The Deputy First Minister was heavily criticised by her powersharing partners at Stormont after attending the service in west Belfast.

Asked if the meeting had resolved the row, O’Neill said she would not break the confidence of the discussions but said the positions articulated were “predictable”.

“I believe the everybody wants to make the Assembly and Executive work,” she added.

O’Neill added: “What I wanted to address today, I wanted to get below the politicking and I want to speak directly to families that were hurt.

“Anybody that’s had their hurt compounded I wanted to say sorry to those people. And I think that’s important.

“Let’s distance ourselves away from the politics and go back to what is at the heart of this. Some families are upset and I want to recognise that and acknowledge that.”

‘I am very sorry’

This morning, the Sinn Féin president also offered apologies to grieving families.

McDonald said social distancing in such a large crowd is “difficult, if not impossible”, but that every effort was made to maintain distancing measures.

Hundreds of people lined the route as the cortege passed through west Belfast earlier this week.

Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast, McDonald said it would have been “incredibly hard” for people who had lost loved ones during the pandemic and been unable to hold or attend funeral proceedings to see such large crowds at Storey’s funeral. 

“I’m very, very acutely conscious of everyone who has lost a loved one and buried them in the most difficult and lonely and heartbreaking circumstances at the height of the pandemic,” she said. 

Looking at the images of very busy pathways in west Belfast and taking all of that in has jolted and caused some hurt among some of those families, and for that I am very sorry. 

“I accept that certainly in terms of the numbers that turned out on the pavements… those were large crowds and social distancing when people come out in those numbers is very, very difficult, if not impossible.

“Was it all 100% right and perfect on the day? No,” she said. “It was always going to prove difficult because Bobby was such a public figure.”

She said that nobody wanted to cause “hurt, upset or any further pressure” on grieving families. 

Speaking to reporters in Leinster House yesterday, McDonald said nobody should be punished for attending the funeral of a friend. 

“One of the great marks of friendship and decency is how you say your goodbyes to people.”

When asked if she should apologise, she said: “No, I was pleased to have the opportunity to say goodbye to a friend of mine and had Bobby died a week in advance, a week earlier I wouldn’t have been in a position to do that.”


Under Stormont regulations and guidance, friends of a deceased person should only attend the funeral if none of the bereaved family members are attending. Bobby Storey’s family did attend Tuesday’s funeral.

It is understood that more than 100 people were inside St Agnes’ Church for Storey’s funeral.

Stormont is anticipated to sign off guidance that would allow more people to attend a funeral, depending on the size of the church.

Police have said they are investigating whether there were any breaches of lockdown rules during Tuesday’s events. 

- With reporting by Press Association, Michelle Hennessy and Conor McCrave.

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