Northern Ireland news

Michelle O'Neill says police haven't approached her about Bobby Storey funeral

Michelle O'Neill again defended her actions in the assembly yesterday

DEPUTY first minister Michelle O'Neill has said police have not approached her about her attendance at the funeral of Bobby Storey.

Speaking in the assembly yesterday, the Sinn Féin vice president added that she is “more than happy to cooperate with any PSNI officer who may wish to speak to me”.

She was responding to further questions from MLAs about her involvement in the huge funeral in west Belfast last week.

Ms O'Neill and her Sinn Féin ministerial colleague Conor Murphy will today be urged to apologise for their actions in a formal motion to be debated at Stormont.

It has been tabled by MLAs from the other four executive parties - the DUP's Christopher Stalford. Alliance's Kellie Armstrong, Ulster Unionist Steve Aiken and the SDLP's Colin McGrath.

It states that the assembly "acknowledges the immense sacrifices that people, families and communities have made during the Covid-19 emergency" and "pays tribute to those who selflessly prioritised the need to keep each other safe above their own personal needs, particularly during times of trauma, loss and grief", but "expresses disappointment in the actions of those in ministerial office who breached public guidance and failed to share in the sacrifice that we have asked of others".

It also "implores" the public to "stay with us and continue acting in accordance with the regulations" and "calls on the deputy First Minister and the Minister of Finance to apologise for their actions, which have caused immense hurt".

None of Ms O'Neill's executive colleagues have signed the motion - which does not have any legal force - but both DUP First Minister Arlene Foster and Alliance justice minister Naomi Long confirmed they back it.

Ms O'Neill again said yesterday she “never set out to compound anyone’s grief, I am sorry for that”.

She was responding to an urgent question from the TUV’s Jim Allister asking the first and deputy first ministers "how they propose to restore credibility" to the executive’s promotion of Covid-19 regulations after Ms O'Neill's "attendance and conduct" at the funeral.

The deputy first minister replied that the “executive’s message will continue to be based on scientific and medical advice, reflected in guidance and in legislation”.

DUP MLA Jonathan Buckley claimed that her "insensitive and crass approach" had left many people asking"does the deputy first minister enjoy hurting people?"

Ms O'Neill insisted she would "never set out to compound any family's grief".

The UUP's Doug Beattie asked for the establishment of an “independent statutory inquiry to investigate this issue and all MLAs who deliberately breached the guidelines”.

Ms O'Neill said “I don’t believe we need a statutory inquiry into anything”, adding that there are regulations in place and those who are responsible for enforcing them “will do their job and we should just let them do their job”.

Green leader Claire Bailey asked the first and deputy first ministers if they feel a “commissioner for ministerial standards needs to be appointed as a matter of urgency for all our ministers”.

Ms O'Neill agreed that “we need to have the commissioner in place” and said someone could be in post in August.

The SDLP's Dolores Kelly later asked how she would prevent a perception that “Sinn Féin seem to think of themselves as an elite party where the rules don’t normally apply".

The party's northern leader responded that to “all the public listening at home, it’s really, really important - they have walked this journey with us and they need to continue to walk this journey with us”.

“I will continue to walk with them,” she said.

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