O’Neill: ‘I’m sorry for attending Bobby Storey funeral during pandemic’

You are viewing content from Q Belfast 96.7/102.5. Would you like to make this your preferred location?
Ms O'Neil and a number of Sinn Fein ministers attended the funeral

By Rebecca Black and Gráinne Ní Aodha (PA)

Northern Ireland’s First Minister Michelle O’Neill has apologised for attending a large-scale funeral during the coronavirus lockdown.

The then-deputy First Minister and a number of Sinn Fein ministers attended the funeral of senior republican Bobby Storey in west Belfast in June 2020 when there were restrictions on social gatherings.

Footage of large crowds gathered on the streets for the send-off sparked controversy at the time, and the UK Covid-19 Inquiry has heard evidence that it chilled relations within the Executive.

This included the ending of the joint Covid-19 press conferences with Ms O’Neill and the then First Minister Arlene Foster.

Giving evidence to the inquiry on Monday, Health Minister Robin Swann suggested it contributed to the public losing confidence in the Executive.

Appearing at the inquiry on Tuesday, Ms O’Neill said she was sorry for having gone to the funeral, and sorry for the harm that was caused.

“I know that my actions also angered the families and for that I’m truly sorry. I am sorry for going and I’m sorry for the harm that’s been caused after (it),” she told the Covid-19 inquiry.

Asked if she realised the anger that going to the funeral would cause, she said: “I didn’t but I ought to have.

“I’ve said it publicly on a number of occasions about how sorry I am and I am absolutely, from the bottom of my heart, sorry.

“I do accept wholeheartedly that I in some way damaged our Executive relations with colleagues who had been working very hard with me the whole way through, and I also accept wholeheartedly that I damaged the public health messaging and I had work to do to regain that.”

Last week, former Communities Minister Caral Ni Chuilin gave an apology for attending the funeral while appearing at the inquiry.

She accepted she should not have gone to the funeral during lockdown and apologised to the families who lost a loved one.

“I am very sorry. I absolutely do see the impact and I also recognise that people were more than angry. I accept that and I really am sorry,” she told the inquiry last Wednesday,

In July 2020, Ms O’Neill acknowledged some grieving families had been hurt by her actions, but said: “I will never apologise for attending the funeral of my friend”.

In April 2021, Ms O’Neill offered a “heartfelt and unreserved apology” to families bereaved in the pandemic for her actions in relation to attending the funeral.

It came when the Assembly was recalled from Easter recess to debate a motion of censure against her.

Ms O’Neill told MLAs she was “truly sorry” for the hurt caused to those who had lost loved ones.

However, Ms O’Neill was then criticised for her apology not including an admission that she had been wrong to attend the funeral when strict limitations on public gatherings were in place.

Join the Thank Q Club

Sign up for the Thank Q Club and receive exclusive offers, fun competitions and amazing prizes - it's quick and easy to do!

Sign Up Log In

Listen on the go

Download the Q Radio app to keep listening, wherever you are! It's available on Apple and Android devices.

Download from the App Store Download from Google Play