Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Sinn Féin’s leader and deputy leader attended, along with former leader Gerry Adams (centre)

MLAs from four of the NI Executive parties are expected to sign a motion criticising Sinn Féin ministers over their attendance at the funeral of senior IRA figure Bobby Storey.

The motion calls on Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and Finance Minister Conor Murphy to apologise.

It has been drawn up by the DUP, UUP, Alliance and the SDLP.

First Minister Arlene Foster said the motion is a signal “there cannot be a toleration for double standards”.

Ms O’Neill apologised“for grieving families experiencing more hurt”.

But she has insisted that she did not break social distancing guidelines.

The motion acknowledges the sacrifices people have made during the Covid-19 emergency and pays tribute to those who selflessly prioritised the need to keep each other safe, particularly during times of trauma, loss and grief.

‘Selfish and arrogant’

It goes on to express disappointment about the actions of those ministers who it claims breached public guidance and implores the public to continue to follow the coronavirus regulations.

Mrs Foster, the DUP leader, said Ms O’Neill and “her Sinn Féin colleagues must take responsibility for the health regulations being undermined”.

“We are all frustrated and deeply disappointed by recent events.

“Sinn Féin stand isolated and without support because of their selfish and arrogant behaviour. The mask of integrity, respect and equality has well and truly slipped.”

Appearing on theBBC’s Sunday Politics programme, Justice Minister Naomi Long voiced her support for the motion.

She said Ms O’Neill owes the NI Assembly an explanation for “the damage done” by attending the funeral on Tuesday.

Mrs Long said Ms O’Neill had “not lived up to” her responsibilities as deputy first minister.

TUV leader Jim Allister has also drawn up a no confidence motion in the deputy first minister, demanding she resigns.

The Alliance Party leader also told the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme that she had sympathy for First Minister Arlene Foster’s stance on standing side-by-side with Ms O’Neill at coronavirus-related press conferences.

On Thursday, Mrs Foster saidshe could not currently “stand beside” Ms O’Neill and “give out public health advice”after the latter’s attendance at the funeral.

“I think it would be very difficult at this point to stand on a podium and give other people advice when the person you share that podium with hasn’t taken that advice, so I understand entirely where Arlene is coming from on this,” Mrs Long said.

Image copyright Pacemaker

Image caption Naomi Long said she would back a motion, calling for an apology

“We are in a crisis.

“People are upset, they’re angry, our constituents are in touch with us and they are clearly upset and angry, but it is a sensitive situation.”

I think the most significant thing from the Naomi Long interview was the emphasis that the assembly is owed an explanation.

We now have the four executive parties, not including Sinn Féin, all united in backing a motion which effectively will call for an explanation from the Sinn Féin ministers that attended Bobby Storey’s funeral and call for an apology.

Whether they’ll get that is uncertain.

Michelle O’Neill was repeating ad nauseam, in a press facility at the end of last week, that she doesn’t believe that she breached any of the regulations.

It’s going to be very hard for her to go back on that.

If this is just a temporary situation where the assembly exercises their differences on this, but then gets back to work, that’s one thing.

But if it ends up being a set position which affects the kind of decision making they take in the next few weeks, that’s going to be a bigger problem.

“Of all the things we’ve asked people to do, watching your loved ones make their final journey alone or almost alone has been the most difficult. I know that we’re dealing with grieving families, and I include in that Bobby Storey’s family, so we need to tread lightly on these issues but it is important that if you make the rules, you are seen to keep those rules.

“It’s about confidence between the public and the executive in terms of the things we may have to ask them to do again later this year if there is a second spike and will they treat the advice and regulations with the same respect that they had to date.

“I hope they do but we need acknowledgement of that from Michelle and an apology for the damage done.”

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Media captionMichelle O’Neill: ‘I believe in the regulations’

An executive meeting on Friday was “tense”, Mrs Long said.

She said she told the deputy first minister that she needed to “reflect on her position” and give a “fulsome apology” but what she gave “was somewhat short of that in that it didn’t acknowledge the responsibility for her actions”.

Mrs Long added: “It wasn’t that she attended an event which got out of control in terms of numbers. This was a Sinn Féin-organised event, the stewards were from Sinn Féin, so they knew it was going to be a large gathering before she went and she made a conscious choice to be there, when it was contrary to the regulations and to the advice.”

Mrs Long said the coronavirus guidelines were in place to keep the people of Northern Ireland safe.

“We don’t do these things because Sinn Féin ask us, we don’t do these things because Michelle O’Neill asks us, we do these things because it keeps ourselves, our families and our communities safe and we need to continue to respect the regulations.

“She has, I think, to make up for that credibility gap now and that’s a job I think all of us would support her in trying to take that forward.”

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