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The Big Read: Sinn Fein chiefs on collision course with Stormont over Covid-19 breaches at Storey funeral


Parliament Buildings at Stormont

Parliament Buildings at Stormont

Parliament Buildings at Stormont

Sinn Fein is expected to come under further pressure at Stormont this week over the scenes at the funeral of IRA veteran Bobby Storey.

The North's Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill is facing calls from the other four parties in the five-party Executive at Stormont to temporarily stand down from her role as joint head of government pending a number of investigations into the scenes in west Belfast when hundreds of people lined the streets last Tuesday.

Suspected breaches of the public health guidance that restrict the number of people attending funerals are being examined by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, while there have been ethics complaints against a number of Sinn Fein MLAs over their attendance.

O'Neill, the Sinn Fein deputy leader, has stood by her decision and said she will never apologise for attending the funeral of a friend. She and party colleagues have been accused of flouting the Covid-19 regulations and guidance they helped to set.

A senior Stormont source said that while the Executive would not collapse over the controversy, the Northern Ireland Assembly is likely to consider a motion condemning Michelle O'Neill and Sinn Fein this week.

"It's important for the Assembly to say something, for the majority to say we don't like it, it's not right," the source said.

O'Neill and Sinn Fein attempted to defuse the matter last Friday by acknowledging some families had been left upset by the scenes at Bobby Storey's funeral.

O'Neill and Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald both said sorry to bereaved families last Friday morning. But both have defended their decision to attend - a move that has put them on a collision course with the other parties.

A meeting of the leaders of the five main Executive parties at Stormont failed to resolve the row. Party leaders dismissed O'Neill's claim that she stuck to the rules, insisting there were clear breaches.

In a statement last Friday O'Neill said she kept to all regulations at the funeral, despite a photograph of her taking a selfie with supporters circulating online.

"If the regulations had prevented me from attending his funeral, I would have obeyed those regulations. At the funeral and Mass, I kept to the regulations as I have advised others to do," she said.

She also said she was sorry for grieving families experiencing "more hurt".

The matter has been the subject of further discussions between the leaders and party officials this weekend and is likely to come to a head in the Assembly this week with a motion on the matter being debated and voted on.

In Dublin, calls for the Ceann Comhairle Sean O Fearghail to request that anyone who attended the funeral in west Belfast stay away from Leinster House for the next 14 days in line with public health advice went unanswered.

Mary Lou McDonald was in Leinster House last Thursday to unveil her frontbench team which included a number of attendees at the Storey funeral, including finance spokesman Pearse Doherty who has strongly defended his decision to attend the funeral.

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The Fine Gael senator who made the initial call, Garret Ahearn, has written to the Dail chairman again this weekend to reiterate his request and asked if any form of ethics investigation can be carried out into the matter.

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