Northern Ireland news

Arlene Foster: O'Neill apology for families' hurt does not go far enough

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill during a press conference outside Parliament Buildings, Stormont. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Suzanne McGonagle and William Scholes

ARLENE Foster has said the credibility of Stormont messaging on Covid-19 has been "severely damaged" amid the political crisis over Michelle O'Neill's attendance at Bobby Storey's funeral.

The First Minister said an apology yesterday "falls short" and she would be speaking further to other party leaders as the deputy first minister refuses to step aside.

The Sinn Fein vice-president had earlier acknowledged that some "grieving families are experiencing more hurt over recent days" after seeing the large crowds at Mr Storey's funeral in west Belfast.

"I am sorry for that," she said.

However, Ms O'Neill insisted she acted within the rules for all things under her control, such as the size of the cortege and numbers inside St Agnes' Church.

"I will never apologise for attending the funeral of my friend," she added.

Ms O'Neill also claimed there was "a lack of understanding on behalf of the clergy" about new rules on funerals, after they insisted they believed a limit of 10 people inside churches still applied.

Earlier, Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald also said she understood "the images of very busy pathways in west Belfast... has caused some hurt" among some families who buried loved ones during lockdown.

"For that I am very sorry."

However, Mrs Foster said Ms O'Neill's apology did not go far enough.

"There was no recognition of any wrongdoing or recognition that there was a problem, no recognition that the credibility of the Executive has been damaged."

With the DUP leader refusing to stand alongside the deputy first minister at Stormont Covid-19 briefings, she added: "It is important that we try and rebuild that trust that has been lost.

"Unfortunately, the credibility of that messaging has been badly damaged over this past week."

Ms O'Neill is facing calls from the other four parties in the five-party Executive to step aside from her role pending police and assembly standards investigations into the scenes on Tuesday.

Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood also said Ms O'Neill's remarks did not go far enough.

They rejected her claim that she stuck to the rules, insisting there were clear breaches.

There have also been calls for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mr Storey's cremation at Roselawn Crematorium.

The body of the former IRA prisoner was initially taken to Milltown Cemetery for a ceremony before being brought to Roselawn.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Northern Ireland news