Storey funeral had potential to undermine public health message – McBride

Northern Ireland’s top doctor has told the Covid-19 Inquiry of his concern that scenes of a large number of people attending the funeral of republican Bobby Storey during the pandemic had the potential to undermine confidence in public health measures.

Dr Sir Michael McBride, Stormont’s chief medical officer, told the inquiry that the funeral in Belfast and other high-profile breaches of Covid restrictions caused a great deal of “hurt and anger”.

The funeral in June 2020 sparked political controversy after then deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill and other Sinn Fein ministers attended.

Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2021
Chief Medical Officer for Northern Ireland Dr Michael McBride (Sir Mark Marlow/PA)

The gathering was criticised at the time as being in breach of Covid rules.

Large numbers of people lined the route and the cortege was followed at a distance by a large number of mourners at a time when social distancing guidelines were in place.

Earlier this week, Sinn Fein’s former communities minister Caral Ni Chuilin told the inquiry she accepted that she should not have attended the funeral.

Dr McBride was asked about the funeral during his appearance before inquiry chairwoman Baroness Hallett on Friday.

He said: “My concern at the time, and there were other high-profile breaches of the guidance and the regulations at that time right across the UK, was that anything whereby those of us in a position of public profile and who were leading (the) response to the pandemic or contributing to leading the response, anything which suggested there was one rule for us and a different rule for someone else, I think was extremely problematic.

“My concern was that that and the other incidents where this occurred created a great deal of hurt, anger and also had the potential to undermine public confidence in what we were asking people to do and the huge sacrifices that people had already made at a time when they had many more sacrifices to make.

“So, I was concerned about the discordance of those images and indeed other high-profile individuals across the UK who had similarly not followed the advice which was there for everyone to follow.”