Northern Ireland news

West Belfast family left 'disgusted' at PSNI's 'overt evidence gathering operation' at mother's funeral

West Belfast woman Rita McKernan passed away on Monday

The family of a west Belfast pensioner is "disgusted" by a PSNI "overt evidence gathering operation" at her funeral.

Rita McKernan (85), died on Monday and was waked at her Norglen Parade home in the Turf Lodge area.

The republican's remains were removed from her home on Thursday and taken to Holy Trinity Church for Requiem Mass before she was later laid to rest.

However, her family said they have been left "disgusted" by the police presence outside their mother's home during her wake, outside the church and in the cemetery.

Patrick McKernan said police had also contacted the funeral directors looking after his mother's funeral to ask about arrangements.

Mr McKernan, who is a member of the IRSP, said the family did "everything we could by the Covid regulations".

The west Belfast man said sanitiser had been provided for those paying their respects at the house and mourners gathered outside the property on the day of the funeral were twice asked to maintain social distancing.

"My mummy was well got. If people wanted to come and pay their respects, fair play. They could come and keep their distance. We were not policing my mummy's funeral."

Mr McKernan said they had wanted to give their mother a "peaceful, dignified" send-off but couldn't due to the police presence.

"We are all annoyed," he said.

"We did everything right. It is heartbreaking enough."

"I am a member of the IRSP and believe it was intimidation and harassment of our family."

Chief Inspector Peter Brannigan said an "overt evidence gathering operation" had been carried out at the funeral, adding that images gathered would be "used for the purposes of prosecution, where the Health Protection Regulations have been breached".

Mr Brannigan added: "As the funeral cortege left west Belfast, a car which was being driven erratically was stopped by local officers and the driver spoken to about the manner of their driving. Once their details were confirmed, they were permitted to continue their journey".

The current Covid restrictions state that "Funerals are limited to 25 people. Pre and post-funeral gatherings are not permitted. The remains of the deceased may be taken back to private homes, but wakes are not to be held and funeral services in private homes are not to take place."

An IRSP spokesman claimed the PSNI had "acted disgracefully and disrespectfully at the funeral".

It is the latest controversy linked to funerals amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Police are currently investigating scenes at a republican funeral in Derry last week and at a loyalist funeral in Belfast last weekend.

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