Northern Ireland news

Council apologises to eight families for not giving same cremation service as Bobby Storey

Roselawn Cemetery is on the outskirts of Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell

BELFAST City Council was yesterday contacting eight families to apologise for not giving their loved ones the same cremation service as leading republican Bobby Storey on the day of his funeral.

Mr Storey's service at Roselawn Cemetery in east Belfast last Tuesday was the only one of nine at the council facility that day where up to 30 people were allowed to attend an outdoor committal.

The other eight cremations were not allowed services at the site.

Coronavirus regulations on outdoor gatherings in Northern Ireland changed from a maximum of 10 to 30 people late on Monday.

The council had been allowing 10 people to attend burials but no-one was allowed to attend committal services after cremations on site.

On Tuesday morning, the council increased the capacity for burials, enabling 30 people to attend the four burials that day.

However, it said it took an "operational decision" to apply the new rules for cremations only from the point of Mr Storey's service onwards - 3.30pm on Tuesday afternoon.

This meant that eight cremations which took place earlier on Tuesday had no-one in attendance, even though the law had already been changed to allow 30.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said Belfast City Council should explain why 30 people were allowed to attend Mr Storey's cremation.

"Nobody else was allowed that.

"There are a lot of questions to be answered and we will be pursuing this through our group at Belfast City Council."

SDLP councillor Dónal Lyons claimed the handling of the issue raised "serious questions about why some appear to consider themselves to be more equal than others".

The council described its decision as an "error of judgment" and "apologised unreservedly" to the families affected.

"Executive regulations were changed for outdoor services on Monday 29 June - coming into effect at 11pm," a spokeswoman said.

"Council was informed by the Executive Office on Monday afternoon, enabling us to start communications with funeral directors. This is normal practice. This was a rapidly changing environment as has been the case during the response to Covid-19, as rules change frequently.

"An operational decision was made that for cremations the new procedures would apply from the cremation of Bobby Storey on the afternoon of Tuesday 30 June onwards and this was the case from Wednesday. We accept in hindsight that this was an error of judgement.

"...We are in the process of contacting these families and are deeply sorry for how this error will have affected them and any hurt and distress caused."

The council spokeswoman also confirmed it had closed the crematorium early due to the "high profile" of Mr Storey, allowing staff to go home beforehand.

However, she said there were 15 staff on site at all times and denied republicans "took control" of the site.

"Belfast City Council made an operational decision to hold the last three cremation slots of the day on Tuesday 30 June.

"This decision was made in order to ensure that there were no other cremations later that day in order to protect the privacy of other members of the public and their cremation services.

"Belfast City Council did not know whether to anticipate high numbers or otherwise and therefore planned for all circumstances. It is normal practice in the event of a high profile cremation to hold slots. There is currently no waiting list at Roselawn Crematorium 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."

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