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First Minister Michelle O’Neill Apologizes for Attending IRA Funeral Amid COVID Restrictions

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Northern Ireland's First Minister Michelle O'Neill has issued an apology for attending the funeral of a former IRA member amid the COVID pandemic. At the time serving as deputy first minister, O'Neill stated she would not apologize for attending a "friend's" funeral, despite the large crowd that gathered in Belfast for the event.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024, 3:

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Michelle O'Neill, the First Minister of Northern Ireland, has issued an apology for attending the funeral of a prominent IRA figure during the period when COVID restrictions were enforced.

During the recent sessions of the coronavirus inquiry, Ms. O'Neill, then the deputy first minister, expressed regret for her actions.

In June 2020, Ms. O'Neill attended the funeral of Bobby Storey, who had been involved with the IRA since his teenage years and faced multiple arrests.

He backed the peace efforts in Northern Ireland and subsequently held the position of northern party chair for Sinn Fein.

A 64-year-old passed away after an unsuccessful lung transplant, and a funeral was held in Belfast.

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A large crowd assembled for the march, with numerous Sinn Fein representatives in attendance, amid outspoken allegations from opposing politicians that COVID regulations had been violated.

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During her testimony, Ms. O'Neill expressed: "I acknowledge that my actions upset the families involved, and for that, I sincerely apologize. I regret my attendance and the subsequent distress it caused."

After being questioned, Ms. O'Neill admitted that she hadn't anticipated her actions causing any uproar initially, but recognized that they could have.

"I have repeatedly expressed in public how deeply regretful I feel, and I sincerely apologize from the heart."

"I fully acknowledge that my actions adversely affected our team dynamics with fellow executives who have been diligently collaborating with me throughout. I also completely recognize that I undermined our public health communications and I need to put in effort to restore that trust."

"Apology Now Easier for Northern Ireland's First Minister"

Lead Ireland Correspondent

Michelle O'Neill came under intense scrutiny for participating in the funeral of IRA leader Bobby Storey amidst the worldwide pandemic.

Amidst a crowd of thousands along the path, the former deputy first minister had violated the power-sharing government's established COVID guidelines.

At that moment, Ms. O'Neill, the vice president of Sinn Fein, stated she would "never apologize for going to a friend's funeral."

Four years on, apologizing appears to have become easier for the First Minister of Northern Ireland.

She requested to speak directly to the grieving families, but was informed that her role was to provide testimony.

In two separate instances, the premier expressed her apologies, stating she was "sorry from the deepest part of my heart."

During the health crisis, members of the unionist community tended to follow guidance from the UK government in Westminster, while nationalists often sought direction from the government in Ireland.

Ms. O'Neill emphatically denied allegations at the hearing that she was engaging in political maneuvering throughout the pandemic.

A later investigation revealed that the Police Service of Northern Ireland focused on public safety rather than coronavirus restrictions during the funeral, but this approach was not influenced by favoritism.

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At that moment, Ms. O'Neill declared she would not apologize for being present at the funeral of someone she considered a "friend".

Unionist representatives, such as Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister, urged her to step down.

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He stated then, "Given that Ms. O'Neill is attending Bobby Storey's funeral today alongside hundreds of others, her position has become indefensible.

"Her behavior is deeply disrespectful and offensive to the countless law-abiding citizens who have made significant sacrifices by foregoing traditional funeral services to bid farewell to recently deceased loved ones."

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