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Northern Ireland’s 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 during the COVID pandemic. At the time serving as deputy first minister, Ms. O'Neill stated that she would never apologize for attending a "friend's" funeral. The event saw thousands gather along the streets of Belfast for the funeral procession.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024, 3:

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Northern Ireland's First Minister, Michelle O'Neill, has expressed regret for attending the funeral of a prominent IRA figure during the period when COVID-related restrictions were enforced.

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

In June 2020, Ms. O'Neill attended the funeral of Bobby Storey, who became a member of the IRA during 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, with the funeral being held in Belfast.

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A large crowd assembled for the parade, with numerous Sinn Fein politicians in attendance, amid loud accusations from opposing political figures who alleged violations of COVID-19 guidelines.

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During her testimony, Ms. O'Neill stated, "I recognize that my actions upset the families involved, and for that, I am deeply apologetic. I regret my attendance and the subsequent damage it caused."

After being questioned, Ms. O'Neill admitted that she did not anticipate her actions causing any anger initially, but she acknowledged that she should have foreseen it.

I have openly expressed my apologies multiple times, and I truly mean it from the heart—I am deeply sorry.

"I fully acknowledge that my actions have negatively impacted our executive relationships with colleagues who have been consistently supportive, and I also fully recognize that I undermined the public health messaging. I understand that I have significant work to do in order to restore trust."

"Apology now easier for Northern Ireland’s premier

Chief Ireland correspondent

Michelle O’Neill was strongly criticized for participating in the funeral of IRA leader Bobby Storey amidst the global pandemic.

At the event, thousands of spectators gathered along the pathway, where the former deputy first minister violated the COVID restrictions imposed by the power-sharing government.

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

Four years on, and it appears that apologizing is no longer the most difficult task for the First Minister of Northern Ireland.

She requested to speak directly to the grieving family members; however, she was informed that her role was to provide testimony.

On two separate occasions, the first minister expressed her apologies, stating she was "sorry from the bottom of her heart."

During the pandemic, union members tended to follow the directives from Westminster, while nationalists often aligned with the guidance from the Irish government.

Ms. O'Neill firmly denied any claims that she was engaging in political gamesmanship during the pandemic, as she testified at the inquiry.

A later investigation revealed that the Police Service of Northern Ireland placed a higher emphasis on public safety than on enforcing COVID-19 restrictions at the funeral, acting without partiality.

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At that moment, Ms. O'Neill stated she would not apologize for being present at the burial of a "friend."

Unionist leaders, such as Traditional Unionist Voice's 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 along with hundreds of others, her position has become indefensible.

"Her behavior is extremely disrespectful and offensive to the countless law-abiding citizens who have made significant sacrifices by forgoing traditional funeral services to say goodbye to recently deceased loved ones."

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