Naomi Long: Michelle O'Neill should explain her actions to Stormont Assembly

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by Michael McHugh, PA

Michelle O'Neill should explain to Stormont's Assembly her attendance at Bobby Storey's funeral, Naomi Long has said.

The Justice Minister urged her Executive colleague to outline why she remains convinced her conduct was in line with official health guidance.

The veteran republican's funeral last week drew hundreds of onlookers who lined the streets of west Belfast as the cortege passed through.

The Deputy First Minister has apologised for grieving families experiencing more hurt.

She said she did everything within her power to control numbers and marshals were in place.

Ms Long told the BBC's Sunday Politics programme: "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."

The four other Executive parties are backing a motion which calls for an explanation from Sinn Fein ministers who attended Mr Storey's funeral.

Meanwhile, Belfast Chamber said Stormont should introduce a voucher scheme for people to spend in struggling local businesses.

Footfall will be down for some time and firms will start incurring costs as they reopen without the level of custom they would ordinarily expect, the traders' body added.

Retailers have been severely impacted by restrictions imposed to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Chamber chief executive Simon Hamilton said: "Whilst it is brilliant to see places like Belfast city centre reopening with shops, bars, restaurants, cafes and hotels all trading again, it is clear that footfall is going to be down for some time to come.

"As businesses reopen, they will start incurring costs again but without the levels of custom they would ordinarily expect and that will place many under pressure."

He said other cities and states have tried to address this issue in a very direct way by giving citizens vouchers to spend in hard-hit sectors such as retail and hospitality.

Vienna gave every household 50 euros to spend in local cafes and restaurants.

Malta and the Chinese city of Wuhan have done something similar, Mr Hamilton said.

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