Coronavirus: NI cemeteries to re-open amid COVID-19 pandemic confirms Arlene Foster

The Northern Ireland Executive has decided to reopen cemeteries after they were closed when social distancing measures were introduced towards the end of March 2020.
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The Executive met on Friday afternoon and agreed that cemeteries throughout Northern Ireland could reopen.

“This is about balancing public health concerns with the basic human need for people to visit their loved ones,” said First Minister Foster.

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Mrs. Foster stressed it remains vitally important that the public remember they must continue to adhere to social distancing guidelines and wash their hands.

The DUP leader also expressed sympathy to party colleagues Edwin Poots and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who recently lost their fathers, as well as former Sinn Fein MLA Oliver McMullan whose daughter recently died.

First Minister Foster also explained that the current restrictions concerning funerals and wakes remain in place.

“We both know that a lot is being asked of the bereaved at this time… but we would not be asking you to respect these restrictions if it were not literally a matter of life and death,” she said.

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Sinn Fein and the Alliance Party had previously supported the decision to close cemeteries across Northern Ireland.

However deputy First Minister and Sinn Fein vice-president, Michelle O'Neill, said the decision to re-open cemeteries came about because they had "listened carefully to the genuine distress of families who have not been able to visit the grave of a loved one”.

“I understand that there’s a fine balance and making sure that people do not face additional burden in terms of their mental health and well-being and also our role in making sure that people are not put at further risk from the transmission of coronavirus,” she said.

“So the opening of graveyards would only be permitted where there are those in charge of burial grounds that can ensure that we have compliance with the regulations and appropriate social distancing.

“We continue to keep these issues under review," she said.

The announcement came a short time after the Department of Health confirmed there had been an additional 15 deaths in Northern Ireland of hospital patients who tested positive for COVID-19.