CLAIM: It is claimed on social media that Northern Ireland Government contingency plans for COVID-19 include turning Dundonald Ice Bowl into a morgue to store bodies temporarily. A common extension is that the SSE (Odyssey) Arena has also been earmarked as a contingency morgue.
CONCLUSION: INACCURATE. The Department of Justice confirms that there are no plans to use either Dundonald Ice Bowl or the SSE Arena. The Justice Minister has stated that buildings on the Kinnegar site outside Holywood will be used as the Northern Ireland Temporary Resting Place if required.
Claims about Northern Ireland ice rinks becoming temporary morgues have been spotted on Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, Reddit and other online forums. (Thanks to everyone who spotted the claims and sent them through to FactCheckNI to verify.)
“My friend live [sic] in Dundonald and she says they’ve turned the local ice skating rink has been converted into a morgue … She says they are preparing for the worst.”
Other examples include:
“Sadly fences are going up around Dundonald Ice Bowl as the ice rink will be used as a morgue. Im [sic] not scare mongering and this is not fake news in preparation for the worst. The odyssey is doing the same as Dundonald.”
“Are they going to use dundonald ice bowl as a morgue as it’s the only council run property than [sic] can adapt the temperature & hold enough bodies..?”
“I also read that the SSE & Dundonald Ice Bowl are being prepped as temp morgues because the real ones won’t cope.”
Can ice rinks be used to store bodies?
CNN reported that “an ice rink in Madrid has been turned into a temporary morgue”:
“Bodies of people who have died of Covid-19 are now being transported by the country’s emergency military unit to the Palacio de Hielo, or Ice Palace, in Madrid’s Hortaleza neighborhood, the Madrid regional president’s office told CNN on Tuesday. The regional government said this was a ‘temporary and extraordinary measure’ designed to ‘lessen the pain of the families of the victims and the situation that’s being recorded in Madrid’s hospitals.’”
Is it part of the plan for Northern Ireland?
Environmental Health Practitioners work with public authorities to develop, implement, and enforce public health policies. This includes dealing with excess deaths caused by a pandemic, for which there will be an Excess Death Management Plan e.g. “Pandemic Influenza: Guidance on the management of death certification and cremation certification”.
In Northern Ireland, the Department of Justice leads on death management planning. FactCheckNI contacted the Department and a spokesperson replied:
“There are no plans to build facilities referred to at either of these venues [Dundonald Ice Bowl and the SSE (Odyssey) Arena].”
Instead, the Justice Minister Naomi Long has revealed that climate-controlled buildings in the Kinnegar Army Base outside Holywood will be leased by the Department of Justice and set up as a temporary mortuary as part of Northern Ireland’s Covid-19 planning. She said:
“Preparing for the future and looking at worst case scenarios, while trying to mitigate against those worst case scenarios, is now our focus. As part of that work, we are taking precautions to prepare for the risk that the normal burial arrangements are not sufficient. We will do all we can to ensure dignity for the deceased and their family. We will work with all of those involved to enable as many people as possible to be buried or cremated in the usual way. However, we must also safeguard public health …
“We currently have some additional space in temporary resting places for the deceased over and above the normal arrangements. We are actively seeking to increase that capacity and are working closely with a range of organisations to find the best solution. As part of that work, a request has been submitted for the use of the soon to be decommissioned Kinnegar site near Belfast to be used as the Northern Ireland Temporary Resting Place, in the event that it is needed. The priority will always be to ensure that there is respect and dignity for the deceased and their families.”