Cork TD says 'incredible efforts' were made to physically distance at Republican's Belfast funeral 

Cork TD says 'incredible efforts' were made to physically distance at Republican's Belfast funeral 
Cork TD Thomas Gould attended the funeral of Bobby Storey. Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald, former president Gerry Adams and Stormont Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill, among other party members, also attended the funeral in Belfast. Picture: Thomas Gould Facebook.

“Incredible efforts” were made by attendees at Bobby Storey’s funeral to physically distance, according to a Cork Sinn Féin TD who was there.

Deputy Thomas Gould made the trip to Belfast on Tuesday to attend the funeral of former Sinn Féin politician and IRA member “as a comrade and out of respect for his work in the peace process.” 

He said he was representing republicans and members of Sinn Féin from Cork city who wished to pay their respects. He did not enter the church for the ceremony.

There has been some criticism of the lack of physical distancing among those who gathered for the funeral. It’s thought approximately 1,800 people lined the streets on the way to St Agnes' Church in Belfast.

Deputy Gould told The Echo that the funeral cortege and mass were conducted in line with the public health guidance.

“The party in Belfast worked closely with the PSNI in the lead up to the funeral.

"Incredible efforts were made to ask people to physically distance. The stewarding operation was well organised.

"Family and friends of Bobby came out of their homes to clap as the funeral passed. There was an outpouring of grief and respect from the community,” he said.

"Bobby was no different to anybody else, his [funeral] was no different, only that he was a public figure who was held in such high esteem by such a huge amount of people.

"I understand how difficult it has been for those who have lost loved ones during the pandemic, not being able to mourn and grieve in the usual way. It is very hard for everybody.

"If the funeral had happened at the weekend, I would not have attended as the restrictions would not have allowed it,” the Cork North Central TD added.

The PSNI is investigating potential breaches of coronavirus lockdown rules that restrict outdoor public gatherings to 30 people.

The North’s Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said the funeral had taken place "in accordance" with coronavirus guidelines.

She has defended the event, saying the cortege only had 30 people in it and social distancing inside the church was "exemplary".

Ms O'Neill has faced calls to resign.

First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster has urged her partner in government to apologise and make amends.

The controversy was aired during robust exchanges at Stormont on Wednesday as both leaders appeared for a schedule evidence session before their Assembly scrutiny committee.

Ms O'Neill defended almost all of her actions.

She did acknowledge that a selfie taken at the cemetery of her posing close to two men, one of whom had his arm on her shoulder, "should not have happened".

Ms O'Neill said the photo happened in a "blink of an eye" as she was leaving the graveside.

"That should not have happened and I am absolutely OK to say that," she said.

Ms O'Neill made clear she would not be quitting following the controversy.

She also declined the opportunity to apologise to anyone who might have contracted Covid-19 as a result of being among the crowds on Tuesday.

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