North 'should have its own Covid inquiry', say bereaved families
NORTHERN Ireland should have its own inquiry into the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, a campaign group has said.
Lawyers acting for Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Northern Ireland have written to Health Minister Robin Swann to state the group's views.
A public inquiry into the British government's handling of the pandemic is to begin work in the spring.
The inquiry will have the power to summon witnesses to give evidence on oath and to compel the disclosure of documents.
Baroness Heather Hallett, who carried out a 2014 review of the handling of 'on the runs' in Northern Ireland, will chair the inquiry.
Families have raised concerns that the experience of bereaved relatives in Northern Ireland is likely to be a "footnote" in the wider UK public inquiry.
Conal McGarrity and Enda McGarrity of P.A Duffy & Co Solicitors said an inquiry in the north would address specific issues which concern bereaved families.
"The scale of deaths as a result of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland are truly staggering for a jurisdiction of this size," they said.
"The disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on care home residents is also a matter of significant public concern and there have been widespread calls for a public inquiry to review the state’s response to the pandemic, particularly in relation to steps taken to protect the most vulnerable people in our society – the elderly and disabled.
"Our clients are seeking a full statutory public inquiry to address issues that arose during the pandemic which are specific to Northern Ireland.
"This would include matters such as health and emergency services, which fall within the scope of the devolved administration.
"Many bereaved families are still grieving the loss of loved ones who died in heart-breaking circumstances and are seeking to establish the facts surrounding these events."
A Westminster probe into the early handling of the pandemic in 2020 has described it as one of the worst public health failures in British history.
A report by cross-party MPs said the government had been too slow to impose a lockdown, meaning the UK fared "significantly worse" than other countries.
People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll said he backed the families' call for a public inquiry.
"We need to find out what was being discussed and decided in the corridors of power when Covid was rife in care homes and our communities," he said.
"The Stormont Executive failed to protect people during the pandemic and there needs to be some accountability for this.
"A public inquiry would be an important step in that endeavour."