Belfast City Council has apologised to eight families who were denied the same cremation service as IRA veteran Bobby Storey on the day of his funeral.
It has emerged that Mr Storey’s service at Roselawn Cemetery in east Belfast last Tuesday was the only one of nine that day where 30 people were allowed to attend an outdoor committal service on site.
The other eight cremations were not allowed services at the site.
The coronavirus regulations on outdoor gatherings in Northern Ireland changed from 10 to 30 people late on Monday.
Prior to that, the council was allowing 10 people to attend burials but no-one was allowed to attend committal services after cremations on site.
On Tuesday morning, the council increased the capacity for burials, enabling 30 people to attend the four burials that day.
However, the council said it took an operational decision to apply the new rules for cremations from the point of Mr Storey’s service onwards – 3.30pm on Tuesday afternoon.
This meant that eight cremations which took place earlier on Tuesday had no-one in attendance, even though the law had already been changed to allow 30.
The council said its decision was an “error of judgment”.
The council had already faced criticism last week after it emerged that some staff had been sent home early from Roselawn ahead of Mr Storey’s cremation and that the remaining cremation slots in the day were blocked off for bookings in the period after his service.
The latest revelations were aired on BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show.
The council said: “Council has apologised unreservedly to eight families who were not afforded the option to have up to 30 people at an outdoor committal service following the cremation of their loved one on Tuesday 30 June.
“Executive regulations were changed for outdoor services on Monday 29 June – coming into effect at 11pm.
“Council was informed by the Executive Office on Monday afternoon, enabling us to start communications with funeral directors. This is normal practice. This was a rapidly changing environment, as has been the case during the response to Covid-19, as rules change frequently.
“An operational decision was made that, for cremations, the new procedures would apply from the cremation of Bobby Storey on the afternoon of Tuesday 30 June onwards, and this was the case from Wednesday. We accept in hindsight that this was an error of judgment.
“This meant that only one of the nine cremation services on Tuesday 30 June had 30 people in attendance. There were four burial services and these burial services had up to 30 in attendance.
“There were eight cremation services affected. We are in the process of contacting these families and are deeply sorry for how this error will have affected them and any hurt and distress caused.
“Belfast City Council made an operational decision to hold the last three cremation slots of the day on Tuesday 30 June. This decision was made in order to ensure that there were no other cremations later that day in order to protect the privacy of other members of the public and their cremation services.
“Belfast City Council did not know whether to anticipate high numbers or otherwise and therefore planned for all circumstances. It is normal practice in the event of a high-profile cremation to hold slots.
“There is currently no waiting list at Roselawn Crematorium and no cremations were cancelled.
“Operational decisions like these made by Belfast City Council are made impartially in what is often a complex and difficult political environment.”