Perception of two-tier policing over Bobby Storey funeral ‘must be addressed’

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Police must address a “dangerous” perception of a two-tier approach to the policing of the funeral of IRA veteran Bobby Storey, Arlene Foster has said.

The First Minister questioned the length of time officers were taking to conclude their investigation into alleged coronavirus breaches at the June funeral, which was attended by several senior Sinn Fein figures.

Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, who has yet to be interviewed by police about her attendance, also expressed frustration that the matter had not been dealt with.

The funeral on June 30 prompted a major political row in Northern Ireland, with Sinn Fein members accused of ignoring Covid rules by attending an event that saw hundreds line the streets of west Belfast at a time when there were strict limitations in place.

Coronavirus – Thu Dec 3, 2020
First Minister Arlene Foster questioned how long the police investigation was taking (David Young/PA)

Liaison between officers and her legal representatives has been ongoing for weeks to set a time and date.

Police are facing mounting questions over the length of time the process is taking, with critics highlighting that fines have been issued immediately for other Covid regulation breaches, such as at Black Lives Matter protests in the summer.

The PA news agency asked both Mrs Foster and Ms O’Neill about the issue on Friday.

“I just think that there’s a need to get it dealt with as quickly as possible,” said Mrs Foster.

“I mean I know that the police will say that there were particular issues around this but, look, I mean 30th of June was when this happened, we’re now coming up into Christmas and there hasn’t been any decisions made in relation to prosecutions.

“I think the public deserves to have clarity in relation to that. And I hope we get it very soon.”

Coronavirus – Tue Dec 8, 2020
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said she was frustrated the matter was still rumbling on (Liam McBurney/PA)

Ms O’Neill said there was a need to bring the matter to a conclusion.

“I am frustrated because it does rumble on,” she said.

“So I look forward to an end being put to it, it being clarified and everything being dealt with.”

An external police commander was commissioned to lead the PSNI probe into the funeral. Cumbria Police deputy chief constable Mark Webster took on the investigation in July.

Police Service of Northern Ireland Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd, who oversaw the police operation on the day of the funeral, was challenged about the two-tier perception at a press conference on Friday.

“I understand the perception, I am not going to stand here and say I don’t understand the perception because clearly I do,” he replied.

Coronavirus – Fri Dec 11, 2020
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd was asked about the investigation at a press conference in Belfast on Friday (Brian Lawless/PA)

He was also asked how many fines had been issued to those who attended the funeral.

“That matter remains under investigation, it will be before the courts if that’s the decision of the PPS (Public Prosecution Service),” he replied.

“The whole investigation is currently under way, it is independently led, and I think given that and to give due respect to the process and the place of the Public Prosecution Service and potentially the Courts Service, it would be wrong to comment further at this time.”

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