By James Ward, PA
The North's Justice Minister has said she sees “no rationale” for a judge-led inquiry into the Bobby Storey funeral.
However, Naomi Long has also suggested the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman may wish to investigate the matter.
The Alliance Party leader was responding to calls for a judge-led inquiry from Doug Beattie, the new leader of the Ulster Unionist Party.
“There isn’t any sort of rationale given,” Ms Long said when asked about Beattie’s comments.
“Obviously I’ll engage with Doug around his thinking, but there isn’t substantive rationale given as to why a further inquiry would be required.”
She added: “The PSNI investigated the funeral thoroughly last year, they forwarded 20 funds to the PPS for prosecution.
“The PPS are now revising their original decision, which was not to prosecute those 20 cases.
“We’ll also have an extensive report from HMIC into the policing operation around the funeral.”
She added: “They have now produced a report. The Chief Constable is going to respond in writing to the policing board about that report.
“I think it’s important that we give them time to consider the Chief Constable’s response before we look at any other action.”
Last week, Mr Beattie said there was a need for a judge-led inquiry to close “gaps in knowledge” about the funeral, which saw thousands take to the streets of west Belfast at a time when strict Covid limits on numbers were in force.
He made the comments after an “honest and robust” meeting with PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne at police headquarters in Belfast on Friday afternoon.
He warned that powersharing in the North could collapse if unanswered questions around the funeral are not addressed.
On Sunday, Ms Long suggested his calls for a “short and sharp” judge-led inquiry were not realistic.
She told Sunday Politics on BBC: “There is, in my mind, no such thing as a short, sharp judge-led inquiry.
“As soon as they go to an inquiry, it would have to be on to the terms of the Public Inquiries Act and, as we know from RHI, that was anything but short and sharp.”
She called on politicians to respect the independence of the institutions, saying they were coming “close to the line” in terms of calling for political intervention.
However, she said the office of the Police Ombudsman may well wish to investigate.
“There’s also the outstanding matter of the Police Ombudsman and any role that her office may have, in terms of looking at individual complaints with respect to the policing operation,” she said.
The minister said she was not calling on the Ombudsman to begin a probe.
“The Ombudsman’s Office is completely independent of my office as Justice Minister,” she said.
“It’s for the Ombudsman to judge on the basis of the evidence and the complaints that are brought to her, whether or not she will, for example, do a thematic investigation.”
She added: “It’s simply a matter of fact that she has received complaints and will have to decide how to take those forward.
“She had already announced, prior to HMIC being requested to come in by the Policing Board, that she had started preliminary work on a potential thematic investigation.
“Would she then stay to allow the HMIC to do their work without there being duplication?
“She will decide whether or not there are other aspects of this that she may have want to inquire into in due course.”