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PSNI investigating possible social distancing breaches at Francie McNally funeral

One of several images that have appeared online appearing to show a lack of social distancing taking place at Francie McNally\'s funeral
Adam Morton

The Ballinderry funeral of a former Sinn Fein councillor Francie McNally is under investigation for potential breaches of the social distancing measures, the PSNI has confirmed.

Speaking after images emerged online, appearing to show a number of mourners not adhering to social distancing restrictions, the PSNI’s District Commander for Mid Ulster, Mike Baird expressed his disappointment.

“We were made aware of plans for a funeral to be held yesterday, Wednesday, April 8 and had engaged with the family of the deceased, and with the local priest, to stress the public health advice and risks around COVID-19 and the requirement for social distancing to be adhered to for those family members attending,” he said.

“I understand that when a loved one dies it is a very traumatic and sad time, and that a funeral is part of the grieving process and allows people to say their goodbyes and pay their respects.

“The family had assured us that only family members would be in attendance, and that local people may pay their respects as the funeral cortège passed, by coming out into their gardens or the front of their homes.

“It is very disappointing to see some people blatantly ignored health advice and breached current legislation by attending the funeral and, in doing so, they not only put themselves at risk but also put at risk close family members of the deceased and those officiating at the funeral.”

He also confirmed an investigation has now been launched.

“We are aware of social media commentary and images circulating online,” he confirmed.

“An investigation is underway, evidence is being gathered and a file is being prepared for submission to the Public Prosecution Service for any breaches of Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) Regulations NI 2020.

“I would also appeal to anyone who has any imagery or footage, or are aware of those who contravened the regulations and put other lives at risk to call us on 101.”

“We are living in unprecedented times and the social distancing rules introduced by the government are there for a reason – to save lives. I would urge all people to play their part to keep people safe during this global health emergency crisis.”

Speaking before the PSNI confirmed they were investigating the matter, Ulster Unionist councillor Robert Colvin had queried how such an event was allowed to go ahead.

“This is a very difficult time for everyone, not least those who lose a loved one and are faced with the prospect of organising a funeral,” said the Torrent representative.

“In a bid to limit the spread of coronavirus and ease the burden on our NHS staff, restrictions have been placed on public gatherings, including funerals.

“Regrettably, these restrictions were completely ignored at the funeral of prominent republican Francie McNally in Ballinderry earlier this week which was attended by a very number of people

“There is little point in Michelle O’Neill speaking at press conferences urging social distancing if republicans in her home county are going to assemble in large numbers in complete defiance of her advice.

“This event also raises questions as to what the police are doing. I cannot imagine such a gathering being permitted in Portrush or Bangor, so why should it be allowed in Ballinderry?”

A spokesperson for Sinn Fein also urged everyone to follow the rules on social distancing.

“While we understand this unprecedented public health emergency has created enormous difficulties for families who have lost loved ones, particularly around the guidelines for funeral services, everyone should follow the public health guidelines on gatherings and physical distancing,” said the spokesperson.

 

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