Northern Ireland news

Michelle O'Neill and Mary Lou McDonald apologise for any hurt caused over Bobby Storey funeral

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald, former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill attending the funeral of senior Irish Republican and former leading IRA figure Bobby Storey in west Belfast
Digital Staff

Sinn Féin deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill and party leader Mary Lou McDonald have apologised for any hurt caused to grieving families after large crowds gathered for Bobby Storey's funeral.

Hundreds of people lined the streets of west Belfast as the IRA veteran's cortege passed on Tuesday June 30.

A political row has since erupted over Ms O'Neill's attendance at the funeral amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The north's five party leaders are due to meet today to try and resolve the row, with four of the main parties calling for the Sinn Féin MLA to stand aside as deputy First Minister while an investigation is carried out into possible social distancing breaches.

Read more: Questions raised about Bobby Storey cremation at Roselawn

Ms O'Neill released a statement today saying that she was sorry that some grieving families had experienced more hurt in recent days.

She said she had listened to people who had lost loved ones and said no one family's loss was more important than that of another.

The Sinn Féin vice-president said Mr Storey was "my friend".

“I am particularly concerned that grieving families, who have lost a loved one during the pandemic had their heartache compounded by the necessary restrictions which were in place at that time," she said.

“Not being able to have their family and friends’ support to help them through was hugely difficult.

“I am also concerned that those grieving families are experiencing more hurt over recent days.  I am sorry for that."

Ms O'Neill said she adhered to coronavirus regulations at the funeral.

“It is unfortunate that this matter has divided the Executive," she said.

“We have important work to do and I firmly believe that all the parties of the Executive are committed to this and to powersharing.

“We have made good progress in this despite all the difficulties. My commitment is to continue this work."

Earlier, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald told radio station Newstalk she wanted to apologise to anyone who was hurt by the gathering.

"I am acutely conscious of everyone who has lost a loved one and buried them in the most difficult and heart-breaking and lonely of circumstances at the heart of the pandemic," she said.

"The very fact that people could not have church services if that is what they wished or even enter cemeteries or crematoriums was incredibly, incredibly hard.

"Can I also say that I do understand that looking at the images of very busy pathways in west Belfast and taking all of that in obviously has jolted and has caused some hurt among some of those families, and for that I am very sorry.

"That certainly would never have been my intention or Michelle's (O'Neill) intention or the intention of the Storey family as they laid Bobby to rest."

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald (left) and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill at Bobby Storey's funeral. Picture by Liam McBurney, Press Association

Michelle O'Neill's statement in full

“There has been considerable controversy over my attendance at Bobby Storey’s funeral.  

“He was my friend.

"At the foremost of my mind are all the families who are grieving.  

“I have listened carefully to the voices of those who have lost loved ones.

“No family’s grief is more important than another’s.

“I am particularly concerned that grieving families, who have lost a loved one during the pandemic had their heartache compounded by the necessary restrictions which were in place at that time. 

“Not being able to have their family and friends’ support to help them through was hugely difficult.

“I am also concerned that those grieving families are experiencing more hurt over recent days.  I am sorry for that.

“Bobby’s family also must have space to grieve. 

“If the regulations had prevented me from attending his funeral I would have obeyed those regulations. 

“At the funeral and mass I kept to the regulations as I have advised others to do. 

“The PSNI will look into all of this.  

“It is unfortunate that this matter has divided the Executive. 

“We have important work to do and I firmly believe that all the parties of the Executive are committed to this and to powersharing.

“We have made good progress in this despite all the difficulties. My commitment is to continue this work.

“Covid 19 is still with us and I will continue to lead us through this and in to recovery.”

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