Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Parents and public must know truth

During direct rule, local politicians complained often - and bitterly - that decisions were taken by ministers who were not accountable to the people of Northern Ireland and who, in their view, often rode roughshod over public opinion.

We all hoped that with devolution we would have open and transparent government. The controversy over the deaths of four infants from pseudomonas shows that the culture at the heart of government remains unchanged even if the personnel have.

Health Minister Edwin Poots has told the parents of one of the infants who died that he will not hold a public inquiry into the deaths. There is no doubt that Mr Poots has been moved by the deaths but is he simply taking the advice of officials in declining to probe the deaths?

The health service along with many government departments and quangos show a worrying penchant for secrecy and refusing to publicly investigate any shortcomings until forced to do so.

There is within the establishment in Northern Ireland people who think they know what is best for the public and that they should decide what information is made public and what should remain within their knowledge alone.

That is a situation which cannot be allowed to continue. This newspaper has repeatedly asked serious questions about how this deadly outbreak began, how it spread, what was done to alert other hospitals after the first baby's death and if the action to contain the infection was both prompt enough and thorough enough.

A public inquiry was eventually held into the deadly C.diff outbreak in which 31 people died in the Northern Health Trust area between June 2007 and August 2008, and this latest infection demands a similar response.

Newspapers are often accused of being intrusive, but in this case we make no apology for our continuing probing into what we believe is a matter of serious public interest.

When Mr Poots makes his statement to the Assembly today he should concede that a public inquiry is justified so that the parents of the dead infants - and the public at large - can hear the truth openly. Nothing less can be defended.

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