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Opinion: Reopening cemeteries is the right decision

Public health guidelines and advice will be signposted at all cemeteries, with staff present at main graveyards. Picture by Hugh Russell
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The Stormont executive's decision to lift restrictions on access to graveyards is a welcome move which will come as a great relief to bereaved families who have been appealing to politicians to take heed of their distress.

It is clear from the heartbreaking testimonies of those who are in the midst of grief that the closed cemetery gates were causing enormous emotional pain at an already difficult time.

We must remember that some families have already sacrificed so much during this crisis.

Loved ones have sadly passed away in a hospital or nursing home, their relatives unable to be with them in their final moments due to the risk of infection.

Even the comfort of a wake and funeral service has been denied to families and friends, who cannot console each other in the normal way.

The rules around funerals will remain and there are well-founded public health reasons to strictly control gatherings but there was a growing sense that cemeteries could be regarded in a different light.

 

This was an issue which had divided opinion within the executive with Sinn Féin voicing opposition to reopening graveyards.

However, a change was expected after party president Mary Lou McDonald signalled a shift during a BBC interview on Thursday night.

After the announcement yesterday, Michelle O'Neill said that ministers "listened carefully to the genuine distress of families who have not been able to visit the grave of a loved one".

She added that it would only be permitted where there are those in charge of burial grounds that can ensure compliance with the regulations and appropriate social distancing.

Arlene Foster said: "This is about balancing public health concerns with the basic human need for people to visit their loved ones."

She said the scientific advice was that this was a proportionate and low risk amendment.

There will need to be controls put in place to ensure the appropriate social distancing is observed in graveyards, but this should not be insurmountable.

This was the right decision by the executive but it was also made clear that the situation remains serious and we need to stay at home and adhere to the other measures that are helping to save lives.

 

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