Council ‘not pressurised’ to give Bobby Storey cremation special treatment

ireland
Council ‘Not Pressurised’ To Give Bobby Storey Cremation Special Treatment
Roselawn Cemetery and Crematorium in Belfast. Photo: PA Archive/PA Images
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By Rebecca Black and David Young, PA

Belfast City Council was not pressured to allow special treatment in the organisation of the cremation of senior republican Bobby Storey, an independent report has found.

However while the report rejected claims of a republican “takeover” of Roselawn Cemetery, it found differentials in arrangements for the cremations that day were “avoidable, unnecessary and completely wrong”.

The council has apologised to all the families who were affected by events at the cemetery on June 30 2020, and described the differential treatment as “unacceptable”.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald (left) and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill during the funeral of Bobby Storey. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA

Peter Coll QC carried out the investigation.

He rejected the allegation that pressure was put on council officials.

“It appears to me that the evidence does not establish that the determining factor for the difference in treatment was Mr Storey’s status as a former senior member of Sinn Fein per se, nor that in some way Sinn Fein had applied pressure to have the change regarding committal services brought about,” he found.

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Mr Coll also concluded there was “no evidence” of a “takeover” of Roselawn by those acting on behalf of the family.

“At all times Belfast City Council staff were at the gate,” he found.

But the report says the “differential in treatment should have been realised by all involved on an organisational level”.

“The differential in arrangements for the cremations that day was avoidable, unnecessary and completely wrong and steps should have been taken to prevent the differential arising in practice,” he said.

The report makes a number of recommendations, including improvements to the CCTV coverage at Roselawn Cemetery, a review of the appropriateness of the relative ease of potential access to the site and whether further security measures are required and potential restructuring within the Department of City and Neighbourhood Services.

It also said the council should consider a review of the structure of internal communications between councillors and senior officials, and carefully consider how it might respond in terms of crisis management to any future controversy.

In a statement the council said the findings and recommendations of the report are being considered.

“We will act swiftly to ensure that a repeat of such a situation occurring is avoided, and, that no other family would experience the hurt and pain of the families affected,” it said.

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Sinn Féin councillor Ciaran Beattie welcomed the publication of the report, and finding “that there was no political interference at Roselawn”.

“There was a lot of misinformation put into the public domain which only added to the hurt and grief of all the families involved and that has been addressed in this report,” he said.

DUP councillor Brian Kingston said his party says party wants more time to consider findings.

Controversial funeral

The funeral of the high profile republican and former IRA leader has been one of the most controversial events to occur during the coronavirus pandemic in Northern Ireland.

More than a thousand people lined the streets of west Belfast for Mr Storey’s funeral procession last June at a time when strict limitations on such events were in place.

The attendance of Sinn Féin leaders at the funeral and a subsequent memorial event at nearby Milltown cemetery sparked a major political row at Stormont, with the republican party accused of disregarding rules they set for the rest of society.

Mr Storey was not buried at Milltown and instead cremated at Roselawn cemetery on the other side of Belfast in a separate event that generated its own controversy.

The independent probe focused on Belfast City Council’s handling of events at Roselawn.

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The council apologised last year when it emerged that it granted access to mourners attending Mr Storey’s service on the same day that eight other families were denied access due to pandemic measures.

With a number of staff having been sent home from work early, prior to the start of the service, the council also faced claims it had effectively handed control of the venue over to republicans organising Mr Storey’s funeral.

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Mr Coll was commissioned to investigate those claims as part of a probe that also focused on whether political representatives or anyone else acting on behalf of the Storey family sought and secured preferential treatment.

The investigation was initially expected to take six weeks but it ultimately took six months to report.

The families affected by the Roselawn events were informed of the findings on Thursday morning prior to the report being made public.

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