LOCAL undertaker Sean Healy has raised concerns around staffing levels at Blaris cemetery.
Speaking to the Andersonstown News, Mr Healy recounted a long running dispute between his firm and Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council around issues concerning the lowering of coffins into the grave.
Sean said: “I approached the council initially regarding their pricing structure and asked if that additional money would be used to increase staffing levels at the cemetery.
“Historically, the Council have only provided two gravediggers to assist in the lowering of coffins into the grave. This has meant that our staff feel pressured into assisting them despite not having the adequate training nor our insurance covering them for it.”
A spokesperson for the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD), who represent undertakers here, said: “It is disappointing that Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council continue to appear to force funeral directors to lower coffins at Blaris cemetery when, historically, it has never been part of the normal practices of a funeral director and something that has always been carried out by local authority employees, who are fully trained.
“It is yet another instance of an organisation, rather than considering the needs of bereaved people, abdicating responsibility to the funeral director, knowing they will do all they can to help their clients."
NAFD point out that the Council has no authority over funeral directors.
“They cannot insist on them carrying out such duties, and we believe the burial of all deceased persons remains the responsibility of the burial authority, in this case the Council," added their spokesperson.
“While NAFD member firms, under the Association’s Funeral Director Code, receive full training to carry out their normal operating duties, and are insured to do so by the NAFD insurance, this does not include lowering coffins, which is not considered to be usual practice.
“If the Council insists on this course of action, it is only just that they provide appropriate training for all funeral directing staff using this cemetery and should also be required to indemnify funeral staff for any personal injury while working within the cemetery environment.
“Meanwhile we would urge all funeral directors to check their business insurance on the issue of personal indemnity for any injuries sustained while carrying out this work and if they have an issue raise it with Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council immediately.”
A spokesperson for the Council said: “As per our policy Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council provides a minimum of two staff at all times to assist with the lowering of coffins.
“Additional council staff are provided dependant on the weight of the coffin advised by the funeral director.
“Funeral directors provide an equal number on each occasion. In line with health and safety legislation it is the responsibility of all employers to ensure their staff are appropriately trained in manual handling techniques and have adequate insurance cover in place.”
In a separate development, Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council have said that a disparity in the cost of opening a grave at Blaris Cemetery for residents living in the Colin area is “like other councils”.
A petition that was launched last year has gained momentum following our report on the additional fees imposed on residents in the Colin area.
Christina Moore, who initially set up the petition following the death of mother in 2019, told the Andersonstown News: “My father had bought the grave in 2012 and passed away in 2013. My mother died unexpectedly in 2019 and we were hit with costs of £1400 to open the grave.
“Mum passed away on 8 July that year and the cemetery was closed on 12 July. The only option that we were given was to bury my mum on that Saturday and it cost an additional £245.
“I was able to have that £250 reimbursed after I wrote to the Council explaining that it was not our fault that we had to bury our mother on the Saturday.
“My mum was a Catholic and it is tradition that she should be buried three days after her passing. We would have liked mum buried on the Friday but the cemetery was closed.”
Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council said: “When Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council formed as a new Council it was recognised that there would be former ratepayers who moved to Belfast City Council as a result of the boundary changes.
“In keeping with the transition period that was adopted for household rates, as a goodwill gesture it implemented a similar process for grave charges.
“This scheme operated for three years and finished in 2018. Now, like other councils, it offers two pricing schedules – one for ratepayers and one for non-ratepayers.”