As BBC NI political editor Mark Devenport said a few days ago, there is “No prospect of Stormont falling.” That doesn’t mean there might not be casualties elsewhere…
Having apologised in public for “operational decisions” around the Bobby Storey cremation at Roselawn Cemetery, the Belfast Telegraph reports that Belfast City Council Chief Executive, Suzanne Wylie, and director of city and neighbourhood services, Nigel Grimshaw, have lodged a formal grievance with the city solicitor, and have threatened to resign “if [their] concerns are not resolved.” The BBC’s Mark Simpson reports
Thursday’s Belfast Telegraph said it has seen correspondence which quotes Ms Wylie as saying: “It is with deep sadness and regret that I have to inform you that Nigel and I are lodging a formal grievance with the city solicitor which includes an indication that we may have no option but to resign if our concerns are not resolved.
“This decision is directly, but not solely, related to the issues which arose around the Bobby Storey cremation.”
According to a BBC report, the two council officers had “warned some councillors in recent days they would resign if an external investigation was ordered.”
The Chief Executive had already announced that a report was being prepared for the Council
In a joint statement on Wednesday, Belfast City Council chief executive Suzanne Wylie and senior officer Nigel Grimshaw said they recognised that events at Roselawn were “unacceptable” and they apologised to the other families affected “wholeheartedly and unreservedly”.
“A report is being prepared for the council on the facts of the case,” they continued.
“This will clarify the sequence of events that took place, and what measures the council will take to ensure that a situation like this does not happen again.”
They also expressed concern about “certain statements and comments that have been made and the impact these may have had” on their council roles.
“We are formally raising these issues with party leaders and the chair of the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee,” they said.
“Due to an ongoing process, we will not be commenting further.”
But as Mark Simpson noted at the time
Two of the most senior officers, including the chief executive, have explained their recent actions in a media statement issued by a Belfast public relations firm, rather than through the council press office.
There may be legal reasons for this, but it is still a remarkable turn of events.
Those “operational decisions” not only resulted in 8 other families not being granted access to Roselawn Cemetery before Bobby Storey’s cremation, they also decided not to have any other cremations for the rest of the day afterwards.
In a statement, Belfast City Council said: “Some non-cremation staff who would normally finish at 4pm, finished at 2pm.”
But the council insisted “15 members of staff were left on site.”
In terms of no other cremations taking place later in the afternoon, the spokesperson said: “Belfast City Council made an operational decision to hold the last three cremation slots of the day. “
As Michael McDowell put it in the Irish Times
Why would a small funeral of the type ordained by the Sinn Féin members of the North’s Executive for ordinary grieving relatives of people dying there during the Covid lockdown not suffice for Storey’s obsequies?
The answer is simple: Provo exceptionalism. This was their equivalent of a state funeral for Gerry Adams’s loyal right-hand man – a state funeral organised by a state within a state. [added emphasis]
That “exceptionalism” saw the party push up to, and through, the guidelines that everyone else was expected to adhere to – including a “traditional” diversion to Milltown Cemetery for some speeches from Sinn Féin politicians.
In addition, questions have been raised over why a large crowd gathered at Milltown Cemetery in west Belfast for speeches by Sinn Féin politicians when the cremation happened at Roselawn in east Belfast.
Milltown Cemetery is a significant location for republicans, and contains the graves of a number of high-profile republicans, including Bobby Sands.
Large crowds are a common feature at funerals of high profile republicans.
During the Troubles, tens of thousands of people turned out for the funerals of IRA members who had been killed.
Funerals often feature common elements, such as a piper, while the coffin is draped in the Irish flag.
According to political commentator Chris Donnelly, these types of funerals “demonstrate a commitment to pursue the cause” of Irish unification, as well as allowing mourners to grieve and pay their respects.
“So a funeral almost is an occasion to express gratitude, renew commitment and the passing of the torch all rolled up into one,” he said.
Belfast City Councillors are due to decide on Friday whether to hold “an independent investigation rather than simply an internal review” into events at Roselawn. Back to Mark Simpson again
There’s no doubt that Suzanne Wylie and Nigel Grimshaw are very, very unhappy.
The first hint came on Wednesday in that statement they issued through a PR company.
I’ve been covering Belfast City Hall on and off for almost 30 years and I’ve never seen that before – two of the top team feeling the need to speak publicly, and for whatever reason, using a Belfast PR firm rather than the council press office.
At Friday’s council meeting, a motion will be proposed calling for an independent investigation into what happened at Roselawn – rather than an internal council investigation whereby council officials and councillors effectively investigate themselves.
Politics being politics, there’s a little bit of wrangling over the exact motion but I’d be surprised if the motion isn’t passed to set up some sort of time-limited independent investigation to try to get some answers about exactly what happened at Roselawn by the autumn.
In the meantime expect more comments from Sinn Féin representatives similar to these from Sinn Féin MLA Pat Sheehan during a “heated” Executive Office Committee meeting at the NI Assembly
“Can I make a suggestion? This issue has become toxic over the last week and I see no benefit to carrying on trying to investigate or pursue,” said Mr Sheehan.
“Do we end up back at the precipice in danger of the institutions collapsing?
“If we keep prodding, these things tend to take on a momentum of their own.
“We all lose control and I would ask Christopher to take some time out and think about this again.”
[Stop asking stupid questions? – Ed]
Adds Looks like there will be at least one external investigation of events on the day…
NI’s chief constable has requested an external police officer to oversee the PSNI investigation into potential breaches of coronavirus restrictions at the funeral of IRA man Bobby Storey.