Tory former chancellor Lord Lamont has pressed the Government over why only 30 people could go to the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral while more than a thousand were able to attend that of a former IRA leader.
The Conservative grandee referred to the controversy in Northern Ireland which helped fuel recent loyalist violence as he questioned the “equality of rights” of citizens in different parts of the UK.
As well as protests at the so-called border in the Irish Sea following Brexit, there was anger at a decision not to prosecute Sinn Fein members for alleged coronavirus regulation breaches for attending the funeral of Bobby Storey last June.
The funeral saw upwards of a thousand mourners line the streets at a time when strict Covid-19 regulations were in place, prompting claims that Sinn Fein had flouted rules it was involved in creating.
The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) decision not to take action has been heavily criticised by the republican party’s political rivals.
Prince Philip’s funeral, like others, was limited to just 30 people as a result of Covid-19 restrictions.
Speaking at Westminster, Lord Lamont said: “If there is equality of rights between the citizens of Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, how is it that in GB at a funeral, even a royal funeral, only 30 people are allowed to attend, whereas in Belfast, apparently, a funeral for an IRA/Sinn Fein supporter can be attended by over 1,000 people?”
Responding, Tory frontbencher Viscount Younger of Leckie said: “I certainly do not want to be drawn into answering on that particular thing.
“I simply reiterate that the Government take their obligations in regard to the rights of all United Kingdom citizens incredibly seriously.”
Peers at Westminster also heard claims that post-Brexit trading arrangements had left Northern Ireland in “the outhouse” of the UK.
It came amid continued criticism of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which has created economic barriers between the region and the rest of the UK, leading to tensions within the loyalist community because of concerns that it undermines its place in the Union.
Former Labour MP and non-affiliated Baroness Hoey, who was a prominent Leave campaigner, said: “Surely, one fundamental right that all United Kingdom citizens should enjoy in a democracy is being able to elect those who make the laws for the economy.
“The protocol, introduced without one single person in Northern Ireland agreeing to it, has now placed Northern Ireland in the outhouse of the United Kingdom family, with a foreign jurisdiction making the law and a foreign court overseeing it.
“Does the minister recognise that the constitutional position of that part of the United Kingdom has changed utterly with the loss of that fundamental right?”
Lord Younger said: “It is fair to say that urgent progress is needed to restore confidence on the ground and to address the outstanding protocol issues.”