DUP East Belfast Joanne Bunting has challenged the Chief Constable Simon Byrne to demonstrate through actions rather than words that the PSNI will not provide tacit agreement to future breaches of the Covid regulations at large funerals.
Highlighting that she has been frequently sent footage of illegal gatherings at funerals during the latest period of lockdown, Ms Bunting said:
‘‘I fully appreciate that the space for policing funerals during the pandemic has been difficult and contentious. However, the rule of law must apply equally and fairly to everyone regardless of background or affiliation.
In my own constituency, and right across our Province, families have abided by the rules and buried loved ones in the most trying of circumstances. I have made it clear to the Chief Constable that there is an onus on him and the police service to demonstrate to these grieving people that their sacrifice will not have been in vain.
There are serious question marks around the PSNI’s handling of large funerals during this period not least in relation to the quality of its evidence gathering.
We are advised, for example, that on one occasion last May nobody in a procession of at least 100 people at a republican funeral could be identified in footage captured despite teams being deployed in the air and on the ground. Therefore, no prosecutions could be taken forward. The public will rightly find this bewildering.
This PPS have now granted officers greater flexibility to hand out fixed penalty notices to offenders 14 days after an event. It remains to be seen whether this will lead to better and fairer enforcement of the regulations.
The Chief Constable has also placed great emphasis on adopting a post-event approach to investigating breaches at funerals because such events are sensitive. We would point out that this was not adopted in relation to the Apprentice Boys parade in Londonderry in 2019 when the police intervened in a heavy-handed and disproportionate fashion.
Ultimately, everyone should be equally subject to the law. There can be no tacit consent given to those who recklessly and consciously breach the Covid regulations.’’