I shouldn’t have attended Storey funeral in lockdown, ex-Sinn Fein minister says

A former Sinn Fein minister has accepted she should not have attended the funeral of senior republican Bobby Storey in Belfast while lockdown restrictions were in place.

Caral Ni Chuilin, who was Stormont’s communities minister in June 2020, apologised at the Covid-19 Inquiry to the families of victims of the virus, and also said she should not have travelled to the funeral in a ministerial car.

It came after two former DUP ministers told the inquiry they believed the presence of Sinn Fein ministers at the funeral had undermined the public health message during the pandemic and increased the virus spread.

The funeral sparked political controversy after then deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill and other Sinn Fein ministers attended, despite lockdown restrictions limiting gatherings.

Stormont Assembly
Mary Lou McDonald (left) and Michelle O’Neill at the funeral of Bobby Storey (Liam McBurney/PA)

The Sinn Fein politician said: “I can. I just want to take the opportunity again to apologise to the families who lost a loved one.

“I am very sorry. I absolutely do see the impact and I also recognise that people were more than angry. I accept that and I really am sorry.”

Ms Campbell said the consequences of Ms Ni Chuilin’s actions “must have been foreseen”.

Ms Ni Chuilin then said she had travelled to the funeral in a ministerial car, but had reimbursed the department for its use.

She said: “I had business in the Assembly straight after the funeral. I had to go to the Assembly and bring in regulations.

“I accept I should not have gone to the funeral in a ministerial car.”

Covid-19 pandemic inquiry
Diane Dodds, former minister for the economy of Northern Ireland, leaving the Clayton Hotel in Belfast after giving evidence to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry (Brian Lawless/PA)

Ms Ni Chuilin said: “I can see the hurt and the anger and I accept that now. Yes, I do.”

Giving evidence earlier, former DUP economy minister Diane Dodds said that in the run up to the funeral, former first minister Arlene Foster and deputy first minister Ms O’Neill had communicated the public health message effectively to the public.

She added: “Then we had the funeral of Mr Storey, where we had thousands of people on the streets, where we had a memorial at Milltown Cemetery and where on the same day that other families had to bury their loved ones, the Storey family were allowed into the crematorium, but others weren’t.

“I think in that act there was almost the signal that you can do as I say but not as I do.

Covid-19 pandemic inquiry
Former DUP education minister Lord Weir leaving the Clayton Hotel in Belfast (Brian Lawless/PA)

Asked about the impact on ministerial relations, Mrs Dodds said: “People felt let down about what had happened, people felt annoyed.

“It was really difficult then to stand at another press conference and say we are going to allow you to do this when all of this had taken place just a few days before.

“I think there was real anger. Executive ministers expressed the view that we were severely damaged by this particular event.”

Former DUP education minister Lord Weir told the inquiry that the funeral had undermined public confidence in lockdown measures more than disputes between Stormont ministers.

He said: “From the basis that people look to what example is produced by those who are giving the laws, and if they see a level of divergence from that, people come to a conclusion is it one rule for them, meaning the political class, and is it another rule for the people?

“That was a much greater level of undermining of public confidence.”

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