The daughter of one of Northern Ireland’s earliest victims of the Covid-19 pandemic has said the fixed penalty notices handed out to the Prime Minister and Chancellor for attending an illegal party in Downing Street during lockdown shows they are not fit to run the country.
Boris Johnson has received the fixed penalty notice for going to the hour-long gathering in the Cabinet Room on June 19, 2020. Rishi Sunak and the PM’s wife, Carrie Johnson, have also been notified they will get fines.
Brenda Doherty’s mother, Ruth Burke, was the fourth person to die in Northern Ireland in the early days of the pandemic.
Brenda, from Newtownabbey, said she has watched in anger as the Government poured scorn on victims then got off with a slap on the wrist, with apologies coming too late.
“Their actions have shown that they are not fit to be running the country,” she said.
“The fines they have been handed are a drop in the ocean to their bank balances and is an insult to those that obeyed the rules, whose loved ones died alone, to people who lost their job or businesses. They are a disgrace, not fit for purpose.”
Mr Johnson confirmed he has already paid the fixed penalty notice.
“Today I’ve received a fixed penalty notice from the Metropolitan police relating to a Downing Street Event on 19 June 2020,” the Prime Minister said.
“Let me say immediately, I have paid the fine and want to offer a full apology.
“There was a brief gathering in the Cabinet Room shortly after 2pm, lasting less than 10 minutes, during which people I worked with passed on their good wishes.
“At that time it did not occur to me this might have been a breach of the rules,” he said.
“The police have found otherwise and I fully respect the outcome of their investigation.
“I understand the anger many will feel that I myself fell short when it came to observing the very rules which the government I lead had introduced to protect the public.
“I accept in all sincerity that people had the right to expect better.
Mr Johnson said he now feels a sense of duty “to deliver on the priorities of the British people” which he added includes “ensuring Putin fails in Ukraine and easing the burden on families caused by higher energy prices. I will take forward that task with due humility.”
But apologies at this stage are not enough for Martina Ferguson, from Northern Ireland’s Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group.
“The revelations surrounding the Downing Street parties are absolutely shocking. It’s totally disrespectful to bereaved families and people across the country that followed the rules and regulations," the Portadown campaigner said.
“They broke the law. How can they continue to lead the country now?”
Martina’s mother, Ursula, died in January 2021. Her name is one of thousands on Westminster’s National Covid Memorial Wall.
“I was grieving the loss of my mummy even when she was alive — I was locked out of the care home and wasn’t able to have any meaningful contact for nine months with my mum despite guidance issued to all care homes in Northern Ireland.
“All the No.10 parties that took place early in the pandemic happened at a time when people across the nation weren’t allowed to say goodbye to their loved ones, couldn’t hug or comfort loved ones in their dying moments.
“Thousands of families’ loved ones went from the morgue to the graveside with no proper funerals or goodbyes. This is heartbreaking and continues to be heartbreaking for many.
“The Prime Minister and his Chancellor have repeatedly lied and misled the public. It’s utterly shameful.
“They should both do the right thing and resign from public office with immediate effect.
“Their low moral standing and deceitfulness has caused irreparable hurt and damage to all the bereaved families.”
News of the fines for the illegal birthday gathering have prompted further calls for both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor to resign.
“It is now established both the Prime Minister and Chancellor have broken the law and the Ministerial Code,” said Alliance MP Stephen Farry.
“They set the rules and then broke them, at a time when they were asking everybody else to make huge sacrifices. The flippant nature of their responses since then has only compounded the hurt felt by many.”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood MP also renewed calls for resignations. “The very least that the public should expect from political leaders is that they abide by the law. But it is now clear that even the lowest standards are far too high for Boris Johnson and his administration,” he said.
"At a moment of deep personal sacrifice for many, they demonstrated cynical selfishness that makes a mockery of the lengths we all went to in order to keep our friends and neighbours safe.
“There is not, and cannot be, any justification for their flagrant disregard for the restrictions they made others abide by. Both must now resign.”