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Monday, November 23, 2020

O’Neill ‘unfortunate controversy’ as Assembly debates ministerial COVID-19 breaches
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This evening the Northern Ireland assembly debated that there was ,ministerial breaches, to the COVID-19 regulations pertaining to the attendance of the Deputy First Minister and Finance Minister at the funeral of Bobby Storey.

The motion supported by four of the five Executive parties, calls upon the Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and Finance Minister Conor Murphy, to apologise for their actions resulting from attending the funeral of the former senior IRA member.

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Jim Wells took the position of Temporary Speaker, due to DUP’s Christoper Salford unable to chair the debate as Principle Deputy Speaker, as he was also proposing the motion being put before the Assembly.

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The motion proposed reads:

‘That this Assembly acknowledges the immense sacrifices that people, families and communities have made during the COVID-19 emergency; pays tribute to those who selflessly prioritised the need to keep each other safe above their own personal needs, particularly during times of trauma, loss and grief; expresses disappointment in the actions of those in ministerial office who breached public guidance and failed to share in the sacrifice that we have asked of others; implores members of the public to stay with us and to continue acting in accordance with the regulations in order to keep each other safe and prevent further deaths; recommits to upholding the spirit and the letter of the COVID-19 regulations and the related public health guidance; and calls on the deputy First Minister and the Minister of Finance to apologise for their actions, which have caused immense hurt‘.

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In his opening statement, Mr Salford also called for the Chair of the Executive Office Committee Mr Colin McGrath, to consider that there be a “committee-led inquiry into these events in order to establish, on the record of this house, the scale of the breaches that occurred”.

‘unfortunate controversy’

After many members across the assembly took their opportunity to speak on the motion, the Deputy First Minister began her reply referencing the ‘unfortunate controversy’ caused by her attendance at the funeral of Bobby Storey.

Taking the opportunity to speak, Mrs O’Neill said that: “With hand on my heart, I can say I would always apologise for any unintended hurt that was caused. I was invited to the funeral in my capacity as deputy leader of Sinn Féin.”

“I’m satisfied that I did act responsibly in the church as part of a limited group of no more than 30 people as part of the cortege.”

The Deputy First Minister also spoke about any ‘unintentional hurt’ that may have been caused of which she apologised for saying:

“At no stage did I seek to give offence to anyone, including this chamber, nor would I ever seek to do so.”

Mrs O’Neill didn’t however apologise for attending the funeral but stated that she takes ‘very seriously’ her ‘responsibilities’. As Mrs O’Neill concluded her comments, the TUV leader Jim Allister shouted across the Assembly chamber, ‘RESIGN’.

The debate concluded with comments from the Chair of the Executive Office Committee, Mr Colin McGrath, who felt that as the Deputy First Minister hadn’t apologies, then he felt it only right that he did concluding:

“You have been badly let down by the people who asked you to make unimaginable, difficult sacrifices.”

The motion being put to the Assembly for a vote, which passed with a majority of ‘AYES’ from those present.

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