Covid-19: Police investigate potential breaches at republican funeral

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image captionPictures of the funeral have led to criticism from unionists

Police have begun an investigation into potential breaches of Covid-19 regulations at the funeral of an IRA man in Londonderry.

Eamon McCourt, 62, who reportedly died with Covid-19, was buried on Monday.

The police said a "significant number of people" had gathered, in a manner "likely to be in breach" of the coronavirus regulations.

PSNI Ch Supt Darrin Jones said anyone found in breach of public health regulations would be reported to the Public Prosecution Service.

He said police had "engaged with representatives of the family of the deceased, the local church and local political representatives", prior to the funeral.

"As a result, police were given a number of assurances as to the conduct of the funeral, and that people would seek to pay their respects to the deceased from outside their homes rather than gather at the funeral."

Pictures of the leading republican's funeral show men in white shirts and black ties flanking the cortege and dozens of others behind them.

Ch Supt Jones added: "Regrettably at the funeral on Monday morning, a significant number of people gathered as part of the cortège, in a manner likely to be in breach of the health protection regulations."

Unionist politicians had called on the police to act after images circulated online of mourners.

DUP MLA Gary Middleton said those who had abided by Covid-19 restrictions would view the scenes from the funeral "with dismay".

He said it was "hard to put into words the sheer recklessness of those involved".

"Within republicanism it seems that certain individuals are viewed as being more important than public health regulations," Mr Middleton said.

"In those minds the reality of Covid-19 has not been brought home, or at the very least it is viewed as less important than having a public display at a funeral.

"Such sights are most painful for relatives who have recognised the need for such painful restrictions to be put in place and have abided by them."

'Numbers were ignored'

Ulster Unionist councillor, Alderman Darren Guy, also condemned the photographs.

"Eamon 'Peggy' McCourt who passed away on Saturday morning was buried from his family home in Creggan, a right accredited to us all.

"However, it was evident that social-distancing measures and permitted mourner numbers were completely ignored by those in attendance.

"Again, the majority of people in Northern Ireland who have followed lockdown measures since March 2020 are asking themselves why can republicans do whatever they like?"

He called on the police to explain why such "a large funeral procession was permitted to take place and what actions will follow".

In a statement, Sinn Féin said: "Everyone has a responsibility to follow the public health guidelines.

"Sinn Féin held its own tribute to his memory online."

Among them was Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill, the Sinn Féin vice-president, who later admitted the public health message had been undermined.

In May, Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said there had been social-distancing breaches at funerals in Northern Ireland in both the unionist and nationalist communities.

This story was amended on 27 January 2021 to remove the phrase 'IRA veteran'. Whilst referring to Mr McCourt's long history in republicanism, we accept the phrase was open to misinterpretation.