Investigation launched after large numbers attend funeral

Investigation launched after large numbers attend funeral

A police investigation is underway in Northern Ireland into claims that social distancing rules were "blatantly ignored" at the funeral of a former Sinn Féin councillor.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has launched an inquiry after images circulated widely on social media of a large procession and a substantial number of people in attendance at the funeral of Francie McNally.

The former Sinn Féin councillor from Ballinderry in Tyrone died in hospital on Monday aged in his early 60s.

Mid Ulster District Commander for the PSNI Supt Mike Baird said the force had liaised with the family of the deceased man and the local priest to stress the public health advice and the requirement for social distancing to be adhered to for those family members attending.

"I understand that when a loved one dies it is a very traumatic and sad time and that a funeral is part of the grieving process and allows people to say their goodbyes and pay their respects," he said. 

"The family had assured us that only family members would be in attendance and that local people may pay their respects as the funeral cortege passed by coming out into their gardens or the front of their homes."

Supt Baird said it was "very disappointing" to see some people "blatantly ignored" health advice and breached current legislation by attending the funeral.

"In doing so, they not only put themselves at risk but also put at risk close family members of the deceased and those officiating at the funeral. We are aware of social media commentary and images circulating online.

"We are living in unprecedented times and the social distancing rules introduced by the government are there for a reason - to save lives," he said.

A PSNI investigation is currently underway. 

It said that evidence is being gathered and a file is being prepared for submission to the Public Prosecution Service for any breaches of Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) Regulations NI 2020. 

It also appealed to anyone who has any imagery or footage, or are aware of those who contravened the regulations and put other lives at risk to contact the PSNI.

Mr McNally was a prominent Sinn Féin councillor in the 1980s and a pub he owned in the late 1990s had been subjected to loyalist attacks.

He was a target of loyalist attacks and two of his brothers were killed during the Troubles.

Sinn Féin vice-president and Mid Ulster MLA Michelle O’’Neill expressed her condolences.

"I was saddened to hear of the death of Francie McNally," she said.

"Francie was a Sinn Féin councillor from 1985 to 1989 and served the people during very difficult and challenging times.

"My thoughts and sympathies are with his family and friends and all who knew him at this time."

Mr McNally’’s brother Phelim was murdered by the UVF in 1988, while another brother Lawrence was shot dead 

In 1991 another of his brothers, Lawrence was shot dead in the Coagh ambush while taking part in an IRA operation.

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