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NI’s main parties call on Michelle O’Neill to step aside

After fines were handed out at Black Lives Matter protests Michelle O’Neill said the police response must be ‘consistent’

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Pressure is mounting on Michelle O’Neill as the other main parties have urged her to step aside but the Deputy First Minister and her party are standing their ground.

The four main parties in the Executive, except Sinn Féin, have called on Michelle O’Neill to resign or step aside while a police investigation is carried out.

People Before Profit is the only party not to call on her to resign with Gerry Carroll labelling other parties hypocrites for ‘picking and choosing’ events to focus on.

Speaking at Stormont yesterday evening, First Minister Michelle O'Neill has said: "I am satisfied that my actions at Bobby Storey’s funeral are in line with public health advice.

"These petty attempts to political point score must end and the Storey family giving space to grieve My thoughts are with Bobby’s much loved partner Teresa and the Storey family today."

The PSNI has said it will 'review footage' from this week’s funeral of veteran republican Bobby Storey to determine whether any breaches of Coronavirus regulations occurred.

Sinn Féin politicians have faced criticism for attending the funeral.

The funeral in west Belfast attracted hundreds of mourners despite Coronavirus regulations stating that a maximum of 30 people are allowed to meet outdoors with social distancing maintained.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, former leader Gerry Adams, Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill and Derry MLA Martina Anderson were amongst those in attendance.

East Derry DUP MP Gregory Campbell said it will have felt like a 'kick in the teeth' to families who have observed the guidance in recent months. 

When asked about the funeral during Monday's Coronavirus briefing at Stormont, Michelle O'Neill said: "Everyone who is attending the funeral should observe the public health advice."

Speaking after the funeral, PSNI Superintendent Melanie Jones said: "We were made aware of the plans for today’s funeral and have engaged with the celebrant and service organisers to highlight both the public health advice and risks around COVID-19, and the requirement for those attending to adhere to social distancing.

"We had assurances that those attending would observe the health guidelines and that marshals would be in place to encourage those lining the cortege route to observe social distancing.

“We will now review footage gathered during the funeral and will consider any suspected breaches of the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) Regulations NI 2020.”

‘CONSISTENT’

Government guidance states that funerals should be private and up to a maximum of 30 people.

This figure does not include funeral directors or other people needed to officiate at the service, such as faith/pastoral representatives, grave diggers and so on.

It can include members of the person’s household, close family members, if the deceased has neither household nor family members in attendance, then it is possible for a modest number of friends to be there.

Social distancing must be practised at all times, which means numbers attending funerals may be restricted further in smaller enclosed places.

There have been a number of events which have been criticised for attracting crowds during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last month the PSNI said there had been social-distancing breaches at funerals in both the unionist and nationalist communities.

On June 6, police handed out 57 fines to Black Lives Matter protestors in Derry and also issued fines at a BLM rally in Belfast.

No fines were handed out at ‘Protect Our Statues’ protests the following weekend.

When asked about the police operation on June 6 First Minister Arlene Foster said it was ‘proportionate’ and it ‘went against Coronavirus regulations’.

Michelle O’Neill on June 8 said she held an ‘online protest’ and in ‘ordinary circumstances she would have been on the streets protesting’.

“But the regulations are in place to save lives and I think the approach at the weekend was proportionate but I do think it needs to be consistent.

“If people break the rules then the policing response has to be consistent.”

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