Speaking during a debate in the Northern Ireland Assembly today on Sinn Fein breaches of Covid-19 regulations DUP Leader and First Minister Arlene Foster said,
"In Northern Ireland much, often too much is made of what divides us.
What we do hold in common is a reverence for life, family and community. This is demonstrated by how we remember people in death, displayed in the support for those who grieve, whether it is at the wake, the funeral or in the time after.
These are unspoken obligations inherited down through the generations. All of us who made the decisions and set the rules knew that the regulations on wakes and funerals would be the limits on life that would cut the deepest, that would ask the most of those at their lowest moment and frustrate the most basic human response, to console the grieving.
It is to the immense credit of the bereaved, their families and communities all across Northern Ireland that the most difficult limit on our lives was abided by, throughout the pandemic, by the vast majority.
They bore a heavier burden for us. They protected us. They acted for the common good.
The credit they deserve is only matched by the shame that Sinn Fein should feel for their actions last June. I take nothing away from the grieving family who lost a loved one on that occasion.
For Sinn Fein however they chose to act in a way that breached the regulations on funerals at that time, and in so doing happily sent a signal to everyone else in Northern Ireland that it was one rule for them and one rule for the rest of us.
The actions of senior Sinn Fein representatives, the Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister, the Sinn Fein Executive Ministers and the Sinn Fein members of the Northern Ireland Policing Board sparked the political crisis.
Once again the message from Sinn Fein was clear ourselves alone, and ourselves first regardless of the costs of undermining the public health messaging.
The wake, the funeral procession of thousands and the political rally were clear and premeditated breaches of the COVID regulations.
The prioritisation at Roselawn over other grieving families was hurtful, ignorant and callous in the extreme. Acts of arrogance. Acts of self-entitlement. Acts of privilege.
The Sinn Fein calls for equality, respect and integrity but demonstrates the opposite.
When someone believes they are above the law then it is the rightful expectation of everyone that the police and justice system shows they are not. What adds insult to injury is that rightful expectation has been failed.
Sadly the PSNI abdicated its responsibilities before the funeral, at the funeral and since the funeral. Decisions not to gather evidence; Collaboration and knowledge of the plan to break regulations; Refusal to allow public scrutiny of that collaboration; Facilitating the breaches by thousands; Foot-dragging on the investigation.
Individually, each of these are unacceptable. Collectively, they show that something is wrong and much work will be required to rebuild levels of community confidence with the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the wider criminal justice system.
The failures of the PSNI Command became a primary justification for the PPS refusal to prosecute; allied with the absurdity from the PPS that ignorance of the law is a defence in general. The NI public were not confused about the law and yet we are asked to believe that those who enacted those laws were confused.
Many will say Sinn Fein has no sense of shame. This may very well be true but it cannot be the way forward.Today it is important we start the journey forward with a common rejection of the idea that there are different rules and laws for different groups of people.
For our part we hold strong to the cherished ideal that ‘all citizens are equal under the law but are equally subject to the law.’
If we are to build a better society for all, it must be fair for all. We must unite around this principle if we are to do what is right. No exceptions – and no special favours to Sinn Fein or anyone else.
Whilst the Deputy First Minister, the Finance Minister and their colleagues have tried to justify their behavior and excuse their elitist attitudes under the cover of the grief of a family who lost a loved one we cannot tread that path.
Today we stand with those families who sacrificed so much for the common good of Northern Ireland The battle to defend and protect the principle of equality before the law is more intense that ever. It is a cause we must win for everyone."