Archbishop Eamon Martin has welcomed a decision by the northern Executive to lift coronavirus restrictions that had closed cemeteries in the region.
Politicians were under increasing pressure to make the move and Archbishop Eamon was amongst Church leaders who appealed to the First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill on Thursday to relax the restriction.
Graveyards were closed to the public in March when the lockdown measures were announced. At the time, Church leaders warned that the decision would cause hurt across the community.
Last night, Mrs Foster said it was about “balancing public health concerns with the basic human need to visit a loved one’s grave”.
Responding on social media, Archbishop Eamon tweeted his appreciation to the Executive. “Pleased to see relaxation of the restrictions,” he said on Twitter. “It will mean a lot to many people,” he added.
Most cemeteries reopened on Saturday morning. However, in Belfast the local authority said that places of burial would not reopen until Sunday.
Mrs Foster said the chief medical officer, Dr Michael McBride, and chief scientific adviser, Prof. Ian Young, had advised the Executive that the move was “proportionate and low risk”.
Last week, a paper had been issued to executive ministers asking them to consider the matter, but the parties could not come to an agreement at that stage.
The DUP and UUP had backed the move, Alliance and Sinn Féin voiced opposition for fear it could lead to complacency, while the SDLP wanted to take further advice.
Sinn Féin’s Mrs O’Neill said the party’s u-turn happened after she “listened carefully” to calls for graveyards to be reopened.
“It’s a fine line always to listen to people and understand people’s concerns and genuine concerns were expressed,” she said.
In England, the coronavirus legislation was amended last week allow cemeteries to open again. In the Republic cemeteries were never closed as part of the restrictions.