'No upper limit' on how many close family members can attend a funeral - Attorney General

By Rebecca Black.

There are no upper limits to how many close family members can attend the funeral of a relative, Northern Ireland's Attorney General has said.

John Larkin told the Committee for Justice that no specific numbers are mentioned in the social distancing regulations.

The Attorney General appeared before the Stormont committee on Thursday to answer questions from MLAs about legal issues relating to the regulations brought in to stem the spread of Covid-19.

He was asked by DUP MLA Gordon Dunne for clarification over the numbers that can attend funerals, adding the number of 10 is often referred to.

Mr Larkin said the number 10 does not appear in section 5 (2) (g) of the regulations - which relates to funerals - pointing to the criteria for attending as being a member of the same household, close family member or a friend in the case of no-one from the previous categories being available.

"There is no numerical limitation in 5 (2) (g), so if one came from a very large family, lots of brothers and sisters, they could all attend," he told the committee.

"Separately, the issue of controlled gatherings is dealt with in regulation 6, and the main prohibition there is participating in a gathering of more than two people. Among the exceptions to that are to attend a funeral.

"Interestingly it is not linked back but a common sense interpretation of the regulations as a whole is really that they should be read harmoniously.

"This is an area where I think the number of 10 is simply a rule of thumb and you won't find that figure of 10 in the regulations."

Mr Dunne then asked: "So a large family could go into the graveyard, and that's reasonable to do?"

"Yes, it is," Mr Larkin responded.

"If you are talking about close family members, let's say one had 15 siblings, and there are of course families here of that size, and one of one's brothers or sisters died, could the other 14 attend the funeral? Yes."

On mourners gathering in the street, Mr Larkin added: "Then I think one might be moving into the territory of unspecified reasonable excuse. So if, for example, a police officer came along and said 'look, I know you're all spaced out but there are 20 of you here in this particular street', I think if someone said, 'I've been a neighbour of Mrs Brown... she's got a very small family and I want her family to appreciate that this street is in solidarity with them and their great bereavement', I would hope that sensible enforcement would permit that, if suitable social distancing was present."

Committee chairman Paul Givan put it to Mr Larkin that the figure of 10 has been "repeated extensively" in relation to funerals.

Mr Larkin responded: "Close family members is the term used in 5 (2) (g), I see, as always I speak subject to correction, but I see no upper limit in 5 (2) (g)."

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