Northern Ireland news

DUP demands police answers after republican funeral scenes in Derry

Eamon McCourt's funeral cortege was flanked by a family "guard of honour".
David Young, PA

The DUP has called for police action after images emerged appearing to show a sizeable crowd at the funeral of a veteran republican in Derry.

Eamonn “Peggy” McCourt, from Creggan in Derry, died at the weekend having contracted Covid-19.

His funeral was held on Monday in the city.

Images later emerged of a seemingly large crowd following a hearse flanked by two lines of mourners in white shirts.

Tight restrictions on the number of people who can attend funerals are currently in force as part of Covid-19 regulations.

Police said they monitored the procession and gave advice to some attendees on the regulations.

Officers said any evidence of breaches will be gathered for potential consideration by prosecutors.

A political crisis erupted in Northern Ireland last June after senior Sinn Fein members attended the funeral of IRA veteran Bobby Storey – an event that saw hundreds take to the streets at a time when strict limits on numbers also applied.

Mr McCourt was a Sinn Fein activist and former IRA member who was badly injured when the SAS opened fire on a car in Derry in 1981. Two other IRA men were killed in the shooting.

DUP Assembly member for Foyle Gary Middleton said: “These scenes from another republican funeral will be greeted with dismay by the vast majority of the public who have abided by the letter of the law throughout Covid-19.

“It is hard to put into words the sheer recklessness of those involved. This is compounded by the fact that Mr McCourt passed away after contracting Covid-19 and at the funeral it was stated his death had brought ‘the reality’ of coronavirus to the community.

“The reality of Covid-19 is that restrictions on funerals are difficult and even painful for grieving families, but they have been put in place for an important reason. Many families have faced such grief without the wider support of family and friends present as would be the case normally.

“Countless people have made the difficult decision to find an alternative way to pay their respects because they know the risks associated with such public gatherings and to ensure they complied with the law.

“Within republicanism it seems that certain individuals are viewed as being more important than public health regulations.”

He added: “Such sights are most painful for relatives who have recognised the need for such painful restrictions to be put in place and have abided by them.”

DUP Policing Board member Trevor Clarke said: “The PSNI need to explain their actions, or repeated inaction in such situations.

“The Chief Constable (Simon Byrne) needs to detail whether officers had knowledge of arrangements for this funeral and explain the inaction of police.

“Incidents such as this do nothing to remove the appearance of two-tier policing which the PSNI is always so keen to dismiss. Without clear answers it will only serve to further erode public confidence.

“Public health regulations apply equally to everyone and they should be enforced equally. No-one is above the law and when the law is breached so publicly there must be an expectation that prosecution will follow.”

A Sinn Fein spokesman said the party was not involved in organising the funeral.

“Eamonn McCourt’s funeral was arranged by his family,” he said.

“Sinn Fein will be holding its own tribute to his memory online.”

A PSNI spokesman said: “Police monitored a funeral procession in Derry/Londonderry today in a sensitive manner to ensure compliance with the current health protection regulations.

“Officers engaged with some of those in attendance and gave appropriate advice in respect of the regulations. Any evidence of breaches will be gathered for consideration of submission to the Public Prosecution Service.”



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