Northern Ireland

Chief Medical Officer slammed Stormont ministers as ‘dysfunctional b*****ds” as Covid crisis deepened, inquiry told

Text message emerged on first day of Covid inquiry hearings in the north

Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said "it's now time to redouble our efforts". Picture by Kelvin Boyes/ Press Eye/PA Wire
Stormont's Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride. PICTURE: KEVIN BOYES/PA

The north’s chief medical officer labelled Stormont Executive ministers “dysfunctional b*****ds” and spoke of an “enemy within” in a text message as the coronavirus crisis worsened, the Covid inquiry has heard in Belfast.

Professor Sir Michael McBride made the comments in a message to Stormont Health Minister Robin Swann in September 2020.

The text was revealed in Tuesday’s hearing by Peter Wilcock KC, who is representing families bereaved during the pandemic.

“Dysfunctional b*****ds. How will we ever get through this with an enemy within? I have a good mind to walk off and leave them to it, as no doubt do you,” Dr McBride wrote.

“But then those that really matter, those whom seem they seem to have forgotten they represent, are really depending on us.”

Health Minister Robin Swann (left) and Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride
Dr Michael McBride (right) appeared during pandemic press conferences alongside Health Minister Robin Swann.

In another message to the north’s Chief Scientific Adviser Professor Ian Young, Dr McBride criticised ministers’ response to a new Covid variant.

He wrote: “Disgraceful. They should hang their heads in shame. How will history tell this story to the wife and two boys of a 49-year-old who said goodbye to their father on Facebook as he lay in the ICU for the sake of two weeks’ more effort?”

Dr McBride is among Department of Health figures due to give evidence during the inquiry’s three week’s of hearings in Belfast.

As the hearings began at Belfast’s Clayton Hotel, relatives of some of those who died of Covid wore red and held pictures of their loved ones as they arrived for what they said was an “important day”.

The inquiry will examine the decisions taken in the north in response to the pandemic, including decisions behind lockdowns and other non-pharmaceutical interventions.

Along with Dr McBride and Professor Young, others expected to give evidence are First Minister Michelle O’Neill, former First Minister Arlene Foster, and Health Minister Robin Swann.

In her opening statement, Clair Dobbin KC, lead counsel to the inquiry, said statistics showed there were an estimated 4,075 excess deaths from March 1, 2020 to the end of 2022, adding “there were 5,060 Covid-related deaths”, describing a “bleak tally of life lost during the pandemic”.

She said measures to contain the virus were brought into force more quickly in Northern Ireland “relative to the spread of the virus”, than in England.

Ms Dobbin noted the peak in Covid-linked deaths in Northern Ireland came in January 2021, adding this would be a focus for the inquiry,

She said of the inquiry: “It’s an opportunity for candour and a demonstration of the highest ideals that politicians share to make things better for the future.”

Ahead of the hearing, Brenda Doherty, who lost her mother Ruth Burke, said bereaved families “hope all those who are here to give evidence do so with truth and honesty and answer questions without any hesitation”.