Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill has defended her attendance at the funeral of veteran republican Bobby Storey in Belfast yesterday.

The Deputy First Minister, who is also Sinn Féin's leader in Northern Ireland, said she believed her actions were within public health guidelines and regulations linked to the pandemic emergency.

Answering questions from members of Stormont's Executive Office Committee, Ms O'Neill said she would not be standing aside from her position as the joint head of government.

A number of committee members, including the SDLP's Colin McGrath and Christopher Stalford of the DUP, criticised her presence at the ceremonies.

Earlier today, Stormont's First Minister Arlene Foster called on Ms O'Neill to apologise over her attendance at the funeral.

Thousands of people gathered in west Belfast for the funeral of the 64-year-old former IRA and Sinn Féin member, who died from an illness in England two weeks ago.

The mourners included Sinn Féin's President, Mary Lou Mc Donald, its former leader Gerry Adams, as well as a number of party TDs and Assembly members.

Police are investigating potential breaches of coronavirus lockdown rules that restrict outdoor public gatherings to 30 people.

Ms O'Neill in particular has faced strong criticism from political rivals in Northern Ireland, given her role as the joint head of a Stormont Executive that has been instructing people to limit the size of funerals during the lockdown.

Ms Foster said the scenes at the funeral and apparent lack of social distancing had "undermined the credibility" of Stormont's Covid-19 guidance.

The DUP leader said it sent out a message of "do as I say and not as I do".

"This isn't an orange and green issue, I want to say that very clearly," Ms Foster said.

"Many people have had to go to through mourning and grief during this time and haven't had the comfort of people coming to their homes, they haven't had the comfort of a full service, yesterday they asked 'well why was that the case?'

"She [Michelle O'Neill] needs to apologise and recognise the wrong that has been done and she absolutely needs to make amends for what happened yesterday and take steps to try and build up that credibility again."

Ms O'Neill said the cortege only had 30 people in it and social distancing inside the church was "exemplary".

She has insisted everything was done "in accordance with the guidelines".

Sinn Féin deputy leader Pearse Doherty has said it is up to the PSNI to determine whether the Covid-19 restrictions were breached.

He accused politicians who are seeking an apology from Sinn Féin members who attended of playing politics.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Sarah McInerney, Mr Doherty said while the people lining the streets were observing social distancing, he was concerned about the groups of people who were gathered behind them, on footpaths.

He said the cortege was limited to 30 people, marshalls were urging people to socially distance and those in attendance engaged with the church and the PSNI to try to ensure everything was done appropriately.

He said he was attending the funeral of a friend, he was invited to do so by the family, as was Ms O'Neill and Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald.

Mr Doherty said if the funeral was on Sunday or last week, he would not have been there as the restrictions would not have allowed it, as they would have been much stricter.

He said he was one of a small group invited into the church, where he wore a face mask and used hand sanitiser.

The Donegal TD said extended family members were also prevented from being part of the cortege on the request of the family, because of the restrictions in place.

Mrs Foster said she has been "inundated" with messages from people who buried loved ones during the pandemic.

She said: "They're upset, they're distressed, they're really hurt. Many of them are very, very angry."

It is for the police to assess if regulations were broken, Ms Foster said, adding that it is "not just the letter of the law" that is in question.

"We also have to deal with the perception. I think most people will look at the photographs and footage from yesterday and say 'that was wrong'. We need to have an acknowledgement of that and we need to move on," she said.

Ms Foster said there "needs to be reflection" from Sinn Féin, but that she thinks they will "probably try and do what they always do - hunker down and try to get through this. But I think that would be wrong".

The cortège made its way through Andersonstown in west Belfast

The Northern Ireland Secretary has also questioned the attendance of the Deputy First Minister at the funeral.

Brandon Lewis said he understood that some people were "frustrated and angry" at what happened.

"I was a bit surprised...when you are saying to people you've got to follow those guidelines," he said.

"People have given so many sacrifices over the last couple of months, particularly in Northern Ireland where we have seen people really strongly following the guidelines, we've seen lower levels of things because people are following those guidelines so well.

"I am surprised we would have someone from the executive of any description being in a position where it would be perceived to be that they are not doing that."

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster, he said: "I can understand people's frustrations. It's not something I would have done."

Michelle O'Neill and Sinn Fein deputy leader Pearse Doherty 
Crowds attended the burial in Milltown Cemetery

Stormont health minister Robin Swann's weekly Covid-19 media conference yesterday was dominated by the issue as he was challenged on whether the executive's credibility had been undermined.

He was asked if the incident could lead the public to question the point of abiding by the rules - the way some people did after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's top adviser Mr Cummings was accused of breaching regulations during a trip to the northeast of England during lockdown.

"I sincerely hope that this isn't the Dominic Cummings effect in Northern Ireland because in our health service we can't afford it to be," he said.