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Northern Ireland cemeteries reopen after public pressure

Cemeteries across Northern Ireland have begun to reopen following a decision by the Northern Ireland Executive, reports the BBC. Graveyards were closed to the public in March due to lockdown measures.

On Friday the executive agreed to reopen cemeteries following calls from the public.

First Minister Arlene Foster said it was about "balancing public health concerns with the basic human need to visit a loved one's grave".

Cemeteries are operated by Northern Ireland's 11 councils, which must implement measures to ensure social distancing. Some were planning on operating limited hours initially, while others will resume normal opening times.

A spokeperson for Belfast City Council explained limits were necessary at Roselawn Cemetery, which had the only crematorium in Northern Ireland and therefore served a much larger population and had a higher level of activity on site.

The spokesperson said: "For this reason, it will still be necessary to have some limits on opening hours in order to safely manage the facility and protect our staff and members of the public, as well as ensuring the integrity of the cremation service going forward."

On Friday, 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".

Health Minister Robin Swann said the change struck the balance "between protecting public health and not inflicting further suffering on individuals.

"There are a number of people in our community who get great reassurance, mental support and strength by visiting a grave and this step now is a proportionate and empathetic response at this time."

Photo: Roselawn Cemetery, Belfast – Paul McIlroy / Roselawn Cemetery / CC BY-SA 2.0

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