Northern Ireland news

Tensions around Bobby Storey funeral decision heighten further with UUP 'withdrawing support' for the chief constable

The funeral of senior republican Bobby Storey attended by Sinn Féin leader

THE ROW between unionists and chief constable escalated further last night with the UUP adding its voice to calls for Simon Byrne to step down.

The call by Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken comes amid claim and counterclaim that concerns around coronvirus regulations were raised months before the Bobby Storey funeral.

The funeral last June attracted 2,000 mourners, including senior Sinn Féin members, when Covid restrictions were in place.

Sinn Féin was accused yesterday of showing arrogance, self-entitlement and privilege over its actions in relation to the funeral of the senior republican.

During an assembly debate MLAs passed a motion censuring party ministers after it was announced there would be no prosecutions.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill offered a "heartfelt and unreserved" apology, while her colleague Finance Minister Conor Murphy said he regretted the political division attendance at the funeral had caused.

But while there was some expectation that Stormont's unscheduled sitting would ease tensions, the revelation that the chief constable apparently wrote to executive ministers last April highlighting uncertainty around Covid regulations has precipitated a fresh dispute.

Mrs Foster insisting she never received Mr Byrne's correspondence.

"He has been wrong in the way he handled the policing operation; he has been wrong in the fact that he received a plan for the funeral; and he did not challenge that plan and deal with the issues.

"There is no letter in the Executive Office from the chief constable," she told BBC Newsline.

The DUP leader has already called for the chief constable to step aside over the PSNI's handling of the high-profile republican funeral.

And last night UUP leader Steve Aiken added his voice to the call saying the "senior leadership of the PSNI has failed, and no longer has the support of much of our community".

"It is with regret that it has come to this, but it is clear that without the support of much of the community he seeks to serve, it is time for the chief constable to resign. He no longer has our support," he said.

A decision by the Public Prosecution Service not to prosecute is to be reviewed, while it was confirmed yesterday that Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary is to examine the policing operation.

Mr Byrne, who is resisting calls to step aside, told the Policing Board yesterday that recent days have seen the "most extreme manifestation of the difficulties that policing has faced in trying to balance the dilemmas that fall out of the Covid regulations".

Meanwhile, Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has told The Irish News that despite commitments in last year's New Decade New Approach deal that saw the restoration of devolution, Stormont's two largest parties are adopting "the same old approach".

“The executive is increasingly dysfunctional,” she said.

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