Notes 'missing' after Storey funeral published

Notes from the first Stormont Executive meeting following a former Sinn Féin chairman's funeral, which were once thought to be missing, have now been published.

Seven attempts were made by the Covid-19 inquiry team to source the minutes from 2 July 2020 following the large-scale funeral of Bobby Storey.

The notes were then submitted to the Covid Inquiry earlier this month..

The then-deputy first minister Michelle O'Neill and other Sinn Féin ministers had attended the funeral of Mr Storey.

They had faced criticism from other parties over their attendance at the funeral.

Some Executive colleagues had claimed that the gathering was in breach of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions at that time.

In the hand-written published notes on Tuesday evening, Ms O'Neill claimed the funeral was within the regulations.

She added there had been "no dilution" of the public message "in her mind".

In the aftermath of the controversy surrounding her attendance, Ms O'Neill said she would never apologise for attending the funeral of a friend.

But on Tuesday she told the Covid Inquiry that she was sorry for going and for "the hurt that's been caused".

notes
A section of the hand-written published notes from the meeting [BBC]

The Executive meeting took place on 2 July 2020, two days after the funeral which was attended by large crowds.

The notes show that Ms O'Neill told Executive colleagues that the funeral's online stream had been watched by about 250,000 people.

She said the cortege, including herself, numbered 30 people, with stewards lining the route to prevent people joining it.

They had worked with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), she said, and masks were used, along with hygiene measures and social distancing. She added "no offence intended."

Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill
Alongside the then-DUP First Minister Arlene Foster, Michelle O'Neill was jointly responsible for leading the NI Executive's response to the Covid-19 pandemic [BBC]

Alongside the then-DUP first minister Arlene Foster, Ms O'Neill was jointly responsible for leading the Northern Ireland Executive's response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ms Foster said "huge damage" had been done following the funeral and that she could not share a platform that day with Ms O'Neill giving out a joint public message.

That situation then continued for about two months.

Ms Foster's DUP colleague, the former economy minister Diane Dodds, called the funeral "absolutely disgraceful" and said it was "undermining" the work of the Executive.

She added that the deputy first minister needed to "express remorse".

The Sinn Féin finance minister Conor Murphy said the rules around funerals had been relaxed and any breach of regulations was a technicality.

Mr Murphy said he had attended, but was not in the cortege

Ms O'Neill's apology to the Covid Inquiry comes almost four years after the event was held.