External officer to lead PSNI investigation of Bobby Storey funeral

The coffin of senior Irish Republican and former leading IRA figure Bobby Storey passes Casement Park in west Belfast following the funeral at St Agnes' Church.

An external officer has been requested to direct the PSNI’s investigation of potential social-distancing breaches at the funeral of a senior republican.

Hundreds of people lined the route of Bobby Storey’s cortege last week despite restrictions placed on the numbers that can attend outdoor gatherings.

The North's Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and Finance Minister Conor Murphy have been criticised for taking part in the funeral.

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne said he has requested an external senior officer to oversee and direct the police investigation into potential breaches of coronavirus regulations at the funeral.

“I have taken this decision to ensure independent oversight of the investigation,” Mr Byrne said in a statement on Thursday evening.

“The Police Service of Northern Ireland is also in receipt of a complaint from a member of the public regarding police actions leading up to the funeral on June 30, 2020. This has now been forwarded to the Police Ombudsman for her consideration.” DUP Policing Board Group leader Mervyn Storey welcomed the move as “entirely sensible and appropriate”.

“The scenes in west Belfast and at Roselawn left many feeling there were two tiers in the legal system,” he said.

“Restoring credibility to the Covid-19 regulations will be a long road, but the police has a key role to play.”

Earlier, First Minister Arlene Foster pressed her party’s partners in government for a “recognition that the credibility of messaging was damaged”.

Mrs Foster and Ms O’Neill have not appeared together for an update on the Executive’s approach to the coronavirus pandemic since the row.

The First Minister was asked when the joint press conferences will return as she updated the media by herself in Co Fermanagh on Thursday.

She responded: “It’s not a case of doing a solo press conference, I am in Fermanagh today, as well as that, there does have to be a recognition that the credibility of messaging was damaged by what happened last week.

“I hope that we can build that credibility up again, but there has to be a willingness to acknowledge that it was damaged during what happened in west Belfast last Tuesday.

“I have to lead, it is my duty to lead the Executive. We have a job to do in terms of coronavirus and we certainly have a job to do in relation to the recovery and renewal of Northern Ireland.

“I very much welcome the Chancellor’s statement yesterday and the extra money that is coming into Northern Ireland, but we still have a huge job of work to do and I am determined to continue to do it.” The Stormont Assembly passed a motion earlier this week urging Ms O’Neill to apologise for attending the funeral during the pandemic.

The resolution was backed by the DUP, UUP, SDLP and Alliance – but does not have any practical legal effect.

Ms O’Neill has apologised “for grieving families experiencing more hurt”.

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