Funerals can turn into uncontrollable situations, a senior police commander in Northern Ireland has said.

It is up to independent prosecutors to decide if enough evidence exists to take court action for breach of coronavirus regulations, Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) assistant chief constable Alan Todd reminded politicians.

Unionists on the Policing Board scrutiny body warned against “two-tier” policing following the Bobby Storey funeral in Belfast earlier this week while republicans said it had become a “political football”.

The funeral procession of senior Irish Republican and former leading IRA figure Bobby Storey
The funeral procession of senior Irish Republican and former leading IRA figure Bobby Storey (Liam McBurney/PA)

Mr Todd said funerals were a particularly difficult area for his officers to police.

“Quite often, despite the best efforts of funeral directors, clergy, organisers and others, because of the emotion and people’s desire to become involved that becomes a situation that people cannot necessarily control.

“Then there is a judgment on whether you would include policing intervention in that.”

It is down to the independent Public Prosecution Service (PPS) to decide whether to launch court action based on the evidence available.

Mr Todd said Stormont’s coronavirus regulations had not had the benefit of clarification through court proceedings.

“It is my anticipation that a number of cases will go through that process and judgment will be made before the court,” he said.

“We as a police force will perform our role in taking information that is available and taking the evidence that we have gathered, subjecting that to due process through the PPS and through the court system, if it meets the threshold in the judgment of the independent prosecution service.”

Sinn Fein Policing Board member Gerry Kelly said the regulations around funerals had changed and added only 30 were in the cortege.

Both points were contested by the DUP.

Mr Kelly said if police had stepped into the middle of the funeral it may have turned into a more difficult situation with many more people ending up there.

The Sinn Fein veteran said: “There were over 1,200 men and women dressed in white and black out there so that the crowd would not go on into the route of the cortege.

“It was an impossible job to stop people going to a funeral where someone was so highly respected.

“We have to take a sensible approach in trying to make sure that the least harm is done in the circumstances that you are presented with.”

He said thousands had watched the event online.

“We need to be a bit balanced around just picking on this.

“It has become a political football.”

DUP Policing Board member Trevor Clarke said two members of the Policing Board were part of the funeral “charade”.

“If nothing happens here then this adds to the narrative of two-tier policing, that some can do whatever they want.”

He said hundreds had participated.

“It is very disappointing that two of those were members of the Policing Board and one is the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland,” he added.