Sinn Féin accused of breaching lockdown rules at funeral of IRA commander
Sinn Féin is facing accusations of imperilling Northern Ireland’s fight against Covid-19 after its leaders allegedly breached guidelines and regulations by leading hundreds of mourners at the funeral of an IRA commander.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said it will review footage of the funeral in Belfast on Tuesday that drew more than a thousand people in apparent violation of rules limiting outdoor gatherings to 30 people.
Mary Lou McDonald and Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin’s respective current and former leaders, and Michelle O’Neill, a deputy leader who is also Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister, attended the send-off for Bobby Storey, a veteran republican and IRA figure.
Politicians from other parties who share executive power with Sinn Féin at Stormont accused it of undermining efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic. The health minister Robin Swann said:
What we are seeing … was a breach of the guidance that has been issued and has been worked on by the executive and has been supported by the executive. I sincerely hope that this isn’t the Dominic Cummings effect in Northern Ireland because in our health service we can’t afford it to be.
It was a reference to the Downing Street adviser taking long drives during England’s lockdown.
Naomi Long, the justice minister and Alliance party leader, said in a tweet that when the rule makers break the rules it was more hurtful “for all who made huge sacrifices to obey the regulations”.
O’Neill, who is expected to face tough questions at Stormont on Wednesday, defended her attendance at the funeral and said it respected regulations and guidelines.
The cortège had a “maximum of 30 people” and the service inside St Agnes’ Church was “exemplary” in terms of social distancing and hygiene, with only three people per pew, she told the Irish News. “It was all done in accordance with the guidelines.”
The loosing of lockdown restrictions has prompted loyalist Orange Order marching bands to ask permission to hold traditional parades this month.
This long Irish Times article by Gerry Moriarty explains why Storey was so important to the IRA.
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Agenda for the day
Good morning. I’m Andrew Sparrow, taking over from Helen Pidd.
Here is the agenda for the day.
9.30am: Iain Duncan Smith, the former work and pensions secretary, gives evidence to the Commons work and pensions committee, on the wait for the first payment.
10am: The Commons education committee takes evidence on the impact of coronavirus on children with special educational needs.
12pm: Boris Johnson faces Sir Keir Starmer at PMQs.
12.30pm: The Scottish and Welsh governments are due to hold their daily coronavirus briefings.
12.30pm: Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, makes a statement to MPs about the new security laws imposed on Hong Kong.
1.30pm: Downing Street lobby briefing.
2pm: Starmer is due to address a Local Government Association virtual conference.
2.30pm: The Commons science committee takes evidence from academics and health officials on progress towards a coronavirus vaccine.
2.30pm: The OECD and the IMF give evidence to the Commons Treasury committee about the economic impact of coronavirus.
2.30pm: The Commons women and equalities committee takes evidence from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, BME National, and the Runnymede Trust on the impact of coronavirus on BME people.
More local lockdowns should be expected, warns government adviser
A group of 1,000 people whose relatives have died due to Covid 19 have strongly criticised Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock for failing to meet them or respond to their letter and formal petition for an immediate public inquiry, sent on 11 June.
The group, Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, advised by Pete Weatherby QC, who acted for 22 families at the 2014-16 inquests into the Hillsborough disaster, argued that the government is under a legal duty to hold a public inquiry, principally because most people’s deaths from the virus will not be fully investigated at inquests.
On Monday, the group received a two-line acknowledgement from a Downing Street correspondence officer, which stated: “Your correspondence is receiving attention.”
Jo Goodman, who co-founded the group after her father Stuart, 72, died from the virus on 2 April, said:
We are deeply disappointed that the government has not accepted our invitation to meet. It has not even had the courtesy to respond to our petition. Once again, grieving families feel forgotten, with the government refusing to accept any degree of responsibility for mistakes that have been made in its response to the pandemic. The government offers condolences to those who have been bereaved, but while it is unwilling to engage with us, it is very difficult to accept its sympathy.
In their petition, the families argued that there is “a compelling need” for an immediate public inquiry, to learn lessons from the government’s handling of the crisis, and to urgently consider the best measures to improve its response and save more people from dying. Stating that there has been “criticism of the government’s handling of the crisis from all quarters,” the group also argued that when a full public inquiry is held, it must consider key issues including:
- The timing of the UK lockdown on 23 March, which was later than almost all European countries.
- The state of the government stockpile of personal protective equipment and testing capacity.
- The response to warnings in the 2017 Exercise Cygnus report that the UK was not adequately prepared for a pandemic.
- The disproportionately high number of black and minority ethnic people who have died from Covid-19.
- The transfer of patients from hospitals to care homes.
“The UK has recorded one of the highest Covid-19 death tolls in the world, and yet we have seen very little recognition of the fact that this is a country in mourning,” Goodman said. “As reports came in from Italy, the country was rightly horrified by what it saw, but as similar harrowing scenes have played out in our own country, those of us who have been bereaved feel that our loss has simply been swept under the carpet.”