Timeline of furore over funeral of senior republican Bobby Storey

Hundreds attended the funeral in west Belfast last year despite strict lockdown rules in the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
Timeline of furore over funeral of senior republican Bobby Storey

By Rebecca Black, PA

The funeral of senior republican Bobby Storey last year sparked a political furore when hundreds of people poured on to the streets of west Belfast despite strict regulations over public gatherings.

At that time Northern Ireland was under strict rules which limited social interaction aimed at stemming the spread of coronavirus during the first wave of the pandemic.

The appearance of deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill among the crowds led to ructions at the top of the Stormont Executive.

Here is how events unfolded:

– June 21 – Bobby Storey, an influential figure in the republican movement and former IRA man, dies at the age of 64 in England following an illness.

Bobby Storey funeral
The coffin of Bobby Storey arrives at Milltown Cemetery (Liam McBurney/PA)

– June 26 – People line the streets in west Belfast as Mr Storey’s body is brought home.

– June 30 – Hundreds turn out for the funeral, including Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Fein president Mary-Lou McDonald, former party president Gerry Adams and Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy.

Following requiem Mass at St Agnes Church, a cortege followed by hundreds makes its way to Milltown Cemetery where speeches are made. Mr Storey’s remains are later transferred across the city to Roselawn Cemetery for cremation.

A furious reaction follows from politicians. The PSNI issues a statement which said officers had received assurances that health guidelines would be observed with marshals to ensure compliance.

– July 1 – Ms O’Neill is defiant amid calls for her to resign, insisting the cortege was limited to 30 while social distancing inside the church was “exemplary”. She says: “I will never apologise for attending the funeral of my friend.”

Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill during the funeral
Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill during the funeral (Liam McBurney/PA)

– July 2 – Ms McDonald responds to criticism for travelling from Dublin to attend the funeral, telling RTE it had been “meticulously planned with the PSNI and others”. Irish premier Leo Varadkar joins criticism of Sinn Fein, and says politicians should “lead by example”.

– July 4 – PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd says officers were not involved in the planning of the funeral.

– July 10 – Belfast city councillors vote for an independent investigation into events at Roselawn on the day of the funeral.

– July 11 – The PSNI announces that Mark Webster, Cumbria’s Deputy Chief Constable, will oversee and direct the investigation into potential breaches of Covid-19 restrictions at the funeral.

– July 20 – First Minister Arlene Foster stops joint public health briefings with Ms O’Neill until investigations into alleged breaches of regulations at the funeral are investigated.

Arlene Foster
Arlene Foster (David Young/PA)

– September 9 – Ms O’Neill speaks of regret that the public health message was undermined, but does not apologise for attending the funeral. Joint appearances with Mrs Foster later resume.

– September 24 – Police announce that 24 people will be interviewed over alleged breaches of coronavirus regulations at the funeral.

– December 17 – Police announce the investigation into alleged breaches has concluded and a file will be submitted to the Public Prosecution Service.

– February 18 – An independent report finds that Belfast City Council was not pressured to allow special treatment in the organisation of the cremation of Mr Storey, but it finds that different arrangements for cremations that day were “avoidable, unnecessary and completely wrong”.

The council apologises to all the families affected by events at the cemetery on June 30, and describes the difference in treatment as “unacceptable”.

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