Northern Ireland news

Questions raised about Bobby Storey cremation

Hundreds of people attended the funeral of republican Bobby Storey. Picture by Mal McCann
David Young, Press Association

Further questions about Bobby Storey's funeral have been raised after it emerged the veteran republican was cremated in a different part of Belfast to where a major graveyard ceremony was held.

It has emerged that some cemetery staff were sent home early ahead of the cremation at Roselawn in east Belfast at 3.30pm on Tuesday.

Hours earlier, crowds gathered inside Milltown cemetery in the west of the city for a ceremony for the former leading IRA figure following in his funeral at St Agnes' church.

Hundreds lined the route as the cortege proceeded more than a mile from St Agnes' to Milltown.

READ MORE: PSNI review of Bobby Storey funeral footage could take months

The Ulster Unionist Party has asked why the Milltown cemetery event was held, amid the current lockdown restrictions, if Mr Storey was cremated elsewhere.

Some Belfast City Council staff remained at Roselawn for Mr Storey's cremation - including park wardens, managers and crematorium staff - while a number of stewards nominated by the Storey family took responsibility for identifying those people who had been invited to the private event.

Time slots for later burials and cremations after Mr Storey's cremation were blocked off on the Roselawn booking system. 

There were no further burials planned at the cemetery on Tuesday.

Belfast City Council today said a "local elected representative" contacted its staff to ask what numbers would be allowed at the cremation.

A council spokesman said an official confirmed Executive guidance allowing 30 mourners to gather outside the crematorium chapel for an outdoor service.

The crematorium chapel remains closed during the pandemic.

"The local elected representative also informed the council officials that people, appointed by the family, would be on site to assist the family in ensuring that the only people given access to the site would be the family," a spokesman said.

"These people, playing a stewarding role for the family would work with Belfast City Council staff to ensure that those allowed on the site were only those permitted by the family.

"This is no different to what would normally be the case in a high profile cremation or one that would potentially attract high numbers of people or media."

The council spokesman confirmed that some members of staff were sent home early "to avoid a situation where staff would be photographed, as has happened with other high profile funerals or sensitive cremations in the past".

A spokesman said it "made sense operationally" that staff who did not need to be there could leave before mourners and media arrived.

He said a total of 15 members of staff were left on site.

Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill at the funeral of Bobby Storey in Milltown cemetery. Picture by Mal McCann

The last three cremation slots of the day were blocked off "in order to protect the privacy of other members of the public and their cremation services", the spokesman said.

"Belfast City Council did not know whether to anticipate high numbers or otherwise and therefore planned for all instances.

"This would be normal practice in the event of a high profile cremation."

He said there is no waiting list at Roselawn for cremations and no cremations were cancelled.

"Operational decisions like these, made by Belfast City Council are made impartially in what is often a complex and difficult political environment."

Visiting time at Roselawn cemetery is currently restricted during the lockdown, so people wishing to visit graves on Tuesday afternoon would not have been able to access the site whether or not Mr Storey's cremation was taking place.

Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie said: "The news that Bobby Storey was cremated in Roselawn cemetery on Tuesday raises a number of questions for Sinn Fein.

"Firstly, why - in the midst of a global pandemic - did they feel the need to call hundreds of people onto the streets of west Belfast if the plan all along was to hold a cremation ceremony several miles away in the east of the city?

"And secondly - what was the point in taking a coffin to a graveyard only to then transport it to a crematorium? Were people's lives really put at risk from Covid-19 just so Gerry Adams could perform a speaking engagement in Milltown cemetery?

"If people were angry at Sinn Fein due to the lack of social distancing on display at the funeral, they will be furious to learn that the procession to Milltown was nothing more than a needless piece of republican street theatre, and that the real destination was Roselawn all along."

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