Belfast City councillors agree independent investigation into Bobby Storey cremation
Belfast city councillors have passed a motion to hold an independent inquiry into the council's handling of IRA veteran Bobby Storey's cremation last week.
The motion was passed this afternoon with 36 votes in favour and 21 abstentions.
Sinn Féin and People Before Profit abstained from the vote.
The council meeting, which was streamed live online, heard councillors debate the controversial ceremony at Roselawn cemetery in east Belfast.
A funeral procession took place for Mr Storey in west Belfast last Tuesday, before his remains were transferred to Roselawn.
The service for the senior republican was the only one of nine that day where 30 people were allowed to attend an outdoor committal service on site.
The other eight cremations were not allowed services at the site.
Senior council officials took the unprecedented step this week of personally apologising "wholeheartedly and unreservedly" to eight families who were not allowed to hold services at the council's crematorium at Roselawn on Tuesday of last week - the same day as Mr Storey was cremated.
Following the meeting, SDLP councillor Donal Lyons said it was "unjust" for eight families not to have full cremation ceremonies.
"While the overwhelming majority of Councillors weren’t aware of the details of Mr Storey’s cremation until the days after the event, it was important to offer our apologies to the families affected," he said.
"This was to demonstrate the cross community and cross party nature of the regret at what has happened."
He added: "The investigation, to be considered comprehensive, must include any actions by councillors which may have led to the perception of preferential treatment being sought or any other improper motivation.
"Narrowly focusing on just one part of the issue, important as it is, will only result in broader questions being left unanswered."
The PUP's John Kyle told the meeting that the events of the last week had been "damaging and disturbing".
He told the council the actions of Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill at Mr Storey's funeral showed "breathtaking hypocrisy".
"There was a disparity of treatment of grieving families that day," Mr Kyle added.
"There has been confusion about what happened at Roselawn Cemetery. Our communications internally and externally were poor.
"The reputation of the council of acting responsibly has been damaged.
"It is important we have an independent investigation. Every institution makes mistakes.
"We need to know what happened and when and why decisions were made."
Sinn Féin councillor Geraldine McAleer said Bobby Storey would never have advocated for special treatment.
Ms McAleer added: "I have known him (Bobby) all my life and he has been a huge influence on me.
"I will never forget the support he gave to me and my family when my brother was murdered a number of years ago.
"He stood with us as we fought for change in the justice system. He gave that support to hundreds of people.
"He earned the respect of the community he lived in, whether they were republican or not."
Mal O'Hara, Green Party councillor, said the council must get to the bottom of the incident to ensure faith in the council.
"The change in regulations only became operational for one family," he added.
"Why is there a difference in approach?
"Equality is not selective. The law must be applied equally.
"We look forward to the outcome of this independent investigation."
Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Rodgers said people need to be held to account.
He added: "This has just been a dreadful time, thinking back to all those who have lost their lives and those who didn't suffer from Covid-19.
"We had a great record on burial but there has been a loss of confidence there.
"The staff at crematoriums do a superb job but I don't understand how there was special arrangements made for one cremation. Then the next day things reverted back to the way they were.
"These things need looked at and people need to be held to account."
Councillors also condemned threats made against the council's director of city and neighbourhood services Nigel Grimshaw over the fallout from the republican's funeral.