Sinn Féin leadership criticised following large attendance at Bobby Storey funeral

Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll MacNeill has accused the Sinn Féin leadership of making deliberate and very different choices about how social distancing rules should apply following the funeral of Bobby Storey, former IRA member and later senior Sinn Féin figure.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and the North’s Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill were among high-profile party members in attendance at the service and later commemoration event at Milltown cemetery.

Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast, Ms Carroll MacNeill said: “To knowingly and willingly participate in an event that was always going to have the potential to be very large and to not remove yourself from that, it just smacks of making deliberate and very different choices about how the rules are applied.”

Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy responded that using a funeral to make a political point was “a new low”. He said: “There’s an attempt by people like Jennifer to dehumanise Republicans and Sinn Féin members as if we haven’t been through the exact same stresses and anxieties as every other member of the community.

“In a despicable manner Fine Gael are using the funeral of a very well-liked and much-loved man for political ends. I think that’s really disappointing and people will see through it.”

Ms Carroll MacNeill said she had a sense in recent days that Sinn Féin were taking a different approach about regulations and rules. Senior party figures had gone to Belfast to participate in a funeral that always had the potential to be a very large funeral.

“That follows up Saturday at the Convention Centre where Michelle O’Neill travelled down for the Taoiseach’s nomination which seemed to be completely unnecessary when you think about Micheál Martin not even bringing his own family, his own wife and children, to come and celebrate with him on the day that he comes Taoiseach,” she said.

Mr Carthy said that the organisers of the funeral did everything they could to try and ensure that all the regulations and guidelines were adhered to. “There was a requiem Mass at which 30 people were in attendance and that was where Mary Lou McDonald, Michelle O’Neill and Pearse Doherty were part of that small group, the organisers had arranged that only that 30 would follow the hearse. They had made arrangements that if people wanted to attend at some point along the line, they would be in place.”

But the number of people that showed up had surprised the organisers who had broadcast the funeral online to try and minimise the number of people in attendance.

On Tuesday, the North’s health minister said the presence of Sinn Féin leaders among thousands of mourners who congregated for the funeral must not become Northern Ireland’s “Dominic Cummings moment”.