Sinn Féin have attempted to play down the presence of their leadership in a funeral procession that broke social distancing rules.
Party president Mary Lou McDonald, Michelle O’Neill, Pearse Doherty and Gerry Adams were all pictured at the funeral of long-time Sinn Féin advisor Bobby Storey on Tuesday in Belfast.
The funeral of the popular republican drew crowds of over 1,000 people, many of whom could be seen in pictures and video ignoring social distancing rules.
Although not mandatory in the north, few people were seen wearing masks, with none of the Sinn Féin leadership doing so.
Guidance from Northern Ireland’s Executive for funerals states that funerals should be held in private with a maximum of 30 people present.
It is understood Mr Storey’s funeral mass was socially distanced once inside the church, with mourners wearing masks, and had only 30 people or less present.
Pictures emerged early on Tuesday and sparked outrage across the island, it’s understood that staff within Sinn Féin itself had complained privately about the decision to attend, with some noting they had forgone their own relative’s funerals during Covid-19.
Sinn Féin Finance spokesman Pearse Doherty told RTÉ that people had been asked people to stay apart.
“We asked people to social distance, we engaged with the PSNI, we stayed within the regulations,” he said.
“In terms of the reference to 1,800 people, you’re talking about people who were socially distanced, people who lined a street, which was about two miles long, on both sides of the road, and at a two metres distance, “It’s right and appropriate that people can pay their respects but if this was Sunday, if this was last week, I wouldn’t have been there because the restrictions wouldn’t have allowed me to be there.
It’s understood a quarter of a million people watched the funeral online.
Mr Doherty rejected that it was poor leadership: “People didn’t come out to see me, or Mary Lou McDonald, people come out because of Bobby Storey. People came out, because they wanted to show their respect “
When asked if people who attended the funeral should quarantine in case they had become infected with Coronavirus.
“No, and neither would I encourage people who went to Tesco yesterday to quarantine either,” he said.
Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster has called on the deputy Minister Michelle O’Neill to apologise.
Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll McNeill accused the Sinn Féin leadership of “making deliberate and very different choices” about how the rules are applied.
Cavan-Monaghan TD Matt Carthy said that such comments were “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”.