Lynn Paul, a nurse from Belfast, had to watch from outside the gates of the city's Roselawn Crematorium as the hearse carrying the remains of her 78-year-old mother, Evelyn McMullen, made its way in. It was 12pm on Tuesday, June 30.
Lynn had been told by an undertaker that, due to Covid-19 restrictions, she would not be allowed to enter the grounds of the council-run crematorium. Yet just before 4pm, some 28 mourners gathered inside Roselawn for the cremation of former IRA leader Bobby Storey.
It has since emerged that guidelines permitting up to 30 members of the public to attend funerals came into effect at 11pm the previous night.
For reasons that are still unclear, this change was not conveyed to Lynn Paul's family or the seven others who had cremations at Roselawn that day.
"We were told these were the rules and we wouldn't get access to the crematorium," she told the Sunday Independent. "We had no wake in the house and Mummy had to stay in the funeral home in Lisburn, which was closed over the weekend. We didn't get to see her again until the day before the funeral."
On the Tuesday, she joined her husband Leonard and children Robert, Neil and Jonathan in the car behind the hearse carrying her mother's remains for the 14-mile trip to Belfast. "I wanted to follow her. I didn't want to let her go," said Lynn. "We got to the crematorium and two fellas opened the gate to let the hearse in, then closed the gates and we couldn't go in."
She has not ruled out seeking legal advice and received two apologies from Belfast City Council on July 2.
Ulster Unionist councillor Sonia Copeland said there was "so much hurt and confusion" over the issue. "For some reason, Lynn did not get in to see her mother. Yet up to 30 were allowed to attend Mr Storey's cremation hours later. There is disparity between these cremations and there are questions why eight families were all treated differently," she said yesterday.
Four days after the furore over Storey's funeral, the leaders of Northern Ireland's main political parties were summoned to a private meeting on Thursday, July 2 in Stormont.
It was the first time Sinn Fein's northern leader and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill had faced her political opponents after being accused of breaching the Covid-19 guidelines she helped to create by attending the funeral.
Inside room 315, First Minister Arlene Foster was waiting, along with the Ulster Unionists' Steve Aiken. They were gearing up to challenge O'Neill to step aside, 24 hours after the DUP peer Maurice Morrow led the charge in a statement.
The SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and Alliance leader Naomi Long joined via a patchy Zoom call moments later. Tensions were already high when O'Neill sat at the table. She placed a sheet of paper in front of her and read the prepared statement which was then tweeted by the Sinn Fein press office before it had even been delivered in full to her colleagues.
"Michelle came in swinging and showed no remorse," said a source. "Those in the room were shocked that she had such a defence, which felt more like an attack." A more conciliatory approach had been expected.
The regulations, specifically point 5(g), only allow for the attendance at a funeral of members of the deceased's household or close family members. If neither are attending, it is permissible for a small number of friends of the deceased to attend. It appears O'Neill may have broken this rule.
One by one, the leaders rounded on her, with the discussion getting particularly "hot and heavy" between her and Eastwood. He accused her of delivering "half an apology".
The temperature cooled when Foster received a text message informing her that one of her friends had died suddenly back home in Co Fermanagh.
Foster's close-protection officers waited outside the third-floor room for the meeting to wrap up. Later, during a DUP-organised press conference, Foster told journalists her counterpart's apology "fell short" of what she had expected.
The mood wasn't much better in Belfast City Council when its 60 councillors met via Zoom on Thursday to discuss the fallout for the first time. "Relations have completely deteriorated over this," said one member there.
At 6ft 4in, Bobby Storey, who led the Maze prison breakout in 1983, was seen by his family and friends as "indestructible", the word used by one family friend who spoke to the Sunday Independent.
However, for the last 18 months of his life, a serious lung condition meant he had to carry around a rucksack containing oxygen canisters.
He travelled to England last month for an urgent lung transplant and his death in hospital on June 21 was unexpected. He was 64.
Teresa, his partner of over 30 years, had to make her way over to collect his body and the family had to wait days for the post-mortem results.
Sinn Fein quickly stepped in to assist the Storey family with the funeral arrangements. It is now known, following a preliminary investigation by Belfast City Council, that the party made contact with chief executive Suzanne Wylie four days later on Thursday, June 25 and again the following day to notify her a cremation was planned at the council-run Roselawn Cemetery and to request details of numbers who could attend.
In a report released last Thursday and seen by the Sunday Independent, the council states it was aware of engagement between Stormont's executive office and officials relating to a proposal to increase to 30 the number of people permitted to gather outside.
But there was concern over the potential for large numbers to attend Storey's cremation at Roselawn and the potential implications for staff. On Sunday, June 28 an internal email to council officials made them aware of the anticipated change.
The next day it emerged Wylie was dealing with a "serious personal family issue" that had arisen shortly after lunchtime and into the evening. As a result, no in-depth discussion took place in relation to the arrangements and scrutiny was lost. An operational decision within the council was taken to allow up to 30 mourners to attend Storey's funeral as it was seen as a "profile event".
The council claims it offered the Police Service of Northern Ireland an opportunity to visit the site ahead of the cremation "but it was not taken up".
Two hours before the funeral Mass on Tuesday, June 30, there were more than 500 mourners standing outside Storey's house at Owenvarragh Park in Andersonstown, a suburb in West Belfast.
PSNI officers had searched the area and were discreetly monitoring the event. A wake had been held at the house, despite Covid-19 guidelines stating wakes should not be held.
Around 10.30am, senior Republicans Sean Murray and Gerry Kelly, an MLA and member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, draped a tricolour over Storey's coffin before the cortege left for the short journey to St Agnes's Church, flanked by family and Republicans.
Requiem Mass was officiated by Father Gary Donegan, who had known Storey for more than 20 years.
A guard of honour, including MPs Michelle Gildernew and John Finucane, dressed in black trousers, white shirts and black ties, lined both sides of the estate as the cortege made its way to the church, led by two kilted pipers who performed The Minstrel Boy, Sean South of Garryowen, A Nation Once Again and On Raglan Road. Black flags flew along the route.
There were reportedly around 1,800 uniformed stewards from Sinn Fein lining the route and the party brought their own television cameras to stream the proceedings on social media. Photographs and video show mass breaches of social distancing among the crowds. With so many there, it was impossible to stay two metres apart.
Thirty people were allowed to walk behind the hearse, including Teresa and Storey's children, grandchildren and other family members. Among them were Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald, her predecessor Gerry Adams and Michelle O'Neill.
They joined approximately 120 mourners inside the 625-seater church, three to a pew, as the coffin was carried in, before the flag was removed. A photograph of Storey and his lifelong partner was placed on top of the coffin. The priest was joined by a deacon and two sacristans and all three wore masks when offering Holy Communion.
In his homily, Fr Donegan said Storey, who was born in north Belfast in 1956, was raised during "a time when communities were under threat and the army were constantly patrolling the streets".
Having joined the IRA in 1972, Storey spent over 20 years in prison and was the IRA's director of intelligence and named as such under Westminster parliamentary privilege. Security sources linked him to several major incidents, including the £26m Northern Bank robbery in 2004. In 1981, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison for possession of a rifle following an attack on the British Army.
Storey's relationship with Teresa began to develop from the time of his first parole in 1989 and Fr Donegan told mourners he was "devoted to her".
"It's hard to credit that Bobby was on first-name terms with the lady behind the face-cream counter at Debenham's. There aren't too many men here today who can say that," he said.
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He said Teresa "told us of the great mutual love shared between Bobby and her sons Emmett, Fergal and Sean. Over the years, his character rubbed off on to them and Bobby played his part in making them the men they are today. Bobby was a natural with children."
At the Republican plot at Milltown Cemetery afterwards, where hunger striker Bobby Sands is buried, a public address system was set up and Adams paid tribute to his friend, telling those gathered, including O'Neill and McDonald, that "a life of struggle is a life well lived".
The guidance stated that coffin lifts should not take place unless the pall-bearers all reside in the same house, yet Storey's remains were shouldered by Adams, Gerry Kelly, Sean Hughes, Sean Murray, Martin Lynch and former Kerry TD Martin Ferris.
O'Neill again appeared to breach social distancing when she stood to get her picture taken with two men later, one of whom had his arm draped round her. She has accepted this was "wrong".
A marked police car was later seen on CCTV footage briefly stopping at the gates of Roselawn Cemetery at 4pm after the mourners had entered the grounds for Storey's cremation. Seven Sinn Fein stewards arrived in two cars. One vehicle, described as an "advance car", was believed to have been sent to identify there were no issues on the route beforehand.
There have been allegations of intimidation and harassment of council staff by those in attendance but the council's interim report rejects this, describing the occasion as "respectful".
"There were no paramilitary trappings, guard of honour or flag. Council officers described the occasion as a 'low-key, dignified send-off'," the report states. It also confirms there is nothing in the CCTV footage, which officials viewed last Monday, that provides any evidence that Roselawn was under control of anyone other than council officials.
The hearse arrived at 3.54pm. A council staff member carried out a head count and found there were 28 mourners, including Adams, at the service. A much higher figure - 61 - had been wrongly claimed by one Belfast councillor last week. Neither McDonald nor O'Neill were in attendance.
One of the 28 mourners described the 30-minute outdoor service as "very moving" as Fr Donegan carried out a blessing and read a poem by John O'Donohue. "The family said their goodbyes and Teresa touched and kissed the coffin before everyone had to leave. There were a lot of tears," said a source. CCTV showed the hearse departing at 4.20pm, followed by 12 vehicles. The guidance also says there should be no gatherings after a funeral but photographs emerged on social media showing prominent Sinn Fein politicians in large groups.
The council report states: "There is no basis to believe the decision taken in relation to Mr Storey's cremation would have been any different for any other profile event.
"However, that is not a basis for justifying the failure to have the same arrangement for all families that day.
"An apology has been issued to the families."
During a meeting with the DUP on Wednesday, July 8 PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne was asked by Foster to hold an "independent oversight" into the role of the police during the funeral.
It wasn't the first time Byrne had interaction with a senior DUP figure over the funeral. On Friday July 3, Ian Paisley, MP for North Antrim, wrote to the police chief telling him if his force had played a part in organising the funeral, then "your position would be untenable".
In the letter, seen by the Sunday Independent, Paisley asked: "Can you let the public know exactly what role the police played in this funeral of an IRA leader and why they thought it appropriate to do so?"
Paisley said: "Storey was effectively a Kray twin being buried, a major gangster in Northern Ireland. The police should not have been participating the way that is alleged and O'Neill should have resigned over this."
Deputy Chief Constable Mark Webster, of Cumbria Constabulary, has now been appointed to oversee and direct the PSNI investigation of potential social-distancing breaches at the funeral.
It is understood the only possible sanction for those who took part may be a fine for not social distancing. The organisers of the funeral could be questioned for holding a mass gathering, though it is believed unlikely that O'Neill will be questioned as she did not organise the event.
There are other potential ramifications, however. Last Wednesday, both Suzanne Wylie and Nigel Grimshaw, the council's director of city and neighbourhood services, informed party group leaders that they had lodged a formal grievance amid the controversy over the council's handling of the cremation.
The exact nature of their grievances is not yet known but they warned they may have to resign if their "concerns are not resolved", with one source close to the pair saying: "If two senior leaders are feeling that they have had to go this far, I suspect it is pretty serious stuff."
Wylie and Grimshaw took the unusual step of then releasing a statement via Brown O'Connor Communications, a private press relations company, in which they reiterated their "sincerest apologies" to families who were affected.
They added: "We are concerned about certain statements and comments that have been made and the impact these may have on our roles in Belfast City Council."
Wylie and Grimshaw were asked to comment but a spokesman acting on their behalf declined "due to the ongoing process."
Councillors voted on Friday to hold an independent investigation into the handling of the cremation. It also emerged that day that the PSNI is investigating after Grimshaw received a death threat.
The council said it is prepared to waive the fee for cremations on the same day as Storey's and offer a small memorial service to families affected.
But Lynn Paul says she feels "very hurt" by the way the events unfolded. "This is not about who he [Storey] was or anything like that. This is about human rights and the right to pay your last respects," she said.
"Mummy had to be cremated alone, without anyone there at all. And that's all because of the guidelines we were told to stick to. There are no words in the dictionary to describe how I feel."
Belfast City Council has apologised over its handling of the cremation of a former IRA leader after his family and friends were allowed to hold a private service outside the city's crematorium chapel while eight other families were turned away.