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DUP Policing Board Members write to Chief Constable on Londonderry funeral

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Police are investigating whether the presence of a “significant” crowd at the funeral of a former IRA member in Derry breached Covid-19 regulations.

The funeral of Eamon “Peggy” McCourt took place in the Creggan area of the city on Monday. He had contracted coronavirus, and died at the weekend.

DUP Members of the Policing Board have written to the Chief Constable about breaches of Covid regulations at the funeral of Eamonn McCourt.

The letter to the chief constable reads :

Re: Breaches of Covid regulations at the funeral of Eamonn McCourt

Dear Chief Constable

We are writing to place on record our dismay at yet another republican funeral which was permitted to take place with a large gathering of people in clear violation of the Covid regulations in Londonderry yesterday.

The scenes witnessed at the funeral of Eamonn McCourt were reckless and further undermined the public health message. However perhaps more importantly they reaffirmed public perception that the PSNI is unwilling to apply the rule of law toward republicans in a manner that is fair and equitable to other sections of our community.

We recognise that every incident has its own nuances and should be treated on a case-by-case basis within an operational context. However, it is evident that police officers have never deviated from a policy of inaction when it comes to republican funerals, demonstrated by consistent outcomes at those of Francie McNally, Jim Scullion, Hugh Fitzsimmons and Bobby Storey.

You have regularly highlighted the benefits of the PSNI’s four-E approach to potential breaches of the law. We remain deeply concerned, however, that the first three strands of this policy – engage, explain and encourage – have been relied upon heavily in the case of republican funerals despite the evidence suggesting the act of ‘negotiating’ with these organisers is generally fruitless. We question whether the same leniency would be shown to private citizens implicated in relatively minor breaches, particularly in relation to journeys from their home.

In this case, and indeed other high-profile funerals, the threat of disorder seems to have been a determining factor in the PSNI’s decision not to uphold the law. It seems perverse to us that those in our society who carry the least threat can expect more robust action by the police than those wielding a veiled threat of violence. Sadly, the natural consequence of this lack of leadership will be the erosion of confidence in policing.

In this context we would be grateful first of all if you would clarify the nature of engagement by the local police with the organisers of the funeral of Eamonn McCourt since they became aware of arrangements. Secondly can you provide an assurance that the outcome of such agreements or negotiations will not preclude, hamper or dilute the ongoing criminal investigation and preparation of case files for PPS?

We would also like confirmation from the PSNI if, in the gathering of information in relation to the funeral, it was established whether any political representatives were present.

We would also seek sight of the operational policies under which senior officers are permitted to engage with organisers of funerals and other large gatherings during the pandemic.

It is our ultimate hope that your response to this correspondence recognises the seriousness of the issues raised and the need to effectively address perceptions of two-tier policing during the pandemic.

Yours sincerely,

Mervyn Storey MLA

Joanne Bunting MLA

Trevor Clarke MLA

Tom Buchanan MLA

DUP Members of the Policing Board

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