Strangford MP breaks down in Commons as he recalls his mother-in-law’s lonely Covid death
A DUP MP said he was left feeling “raw” after breaking down in tears in the House of Commons while questioning the government about fresh revelations that it broke lockdown rules.
The emotions flowed for Strangford MP Jim Shannon as he told fellow MPs how his mother-in-law had died alone with Covid during the pandemic.
Mr Shannon was attempting to seek an assurance that the findings of an investigation into reports of a “bring-your-own-booze” event at Downing Street during the first lockdown in May 2020, attended by around 100 people, would be made public.
Anticipating the question, Government minister Michael Ellis said he was “very sorry” for Mr Shannon’s loss. Turning to MPs he added: “He’s asking me if the results of the investigation will be made public, and they will be.”
Mr Shannon’s question came after a week in which Northern Ireland reached the milestone of 3,000 Covid-related deaths.
“The experience of my family is only one of those many cases, and even today other MPs in the House also shared their own stories of loss,” he said.
“Our situation is no different to many others across the UK who experienced this loss. The pain of losing a loved one was multiplied in many cases because regulations prevented family from being with a loved one in their final hours or a funeral taking place in the normal way.
“People need to be assured there will be full and complete disclosure to the ongoing investigations. No-one can be above the rules.”
The DUP veteran’s mother-in-law Jemima George, from Newtownards, died at the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald on October 17, 2020, aged 82.
Mr Shannon spoke of the absence of her family and the sadness felt by loved ones who were unable “to sit with her and hold her hand” as she slipped away.
At the same time Mrs George’s daughter Roberta — sister of his wife Sandra — had also been hospitalised due to Covid but, although placed in the same ward, “couldn’t see her mother at the end”.
“That was so hard for Roberta,” Mr Shannon said.
“They were both in side rooms off the same ward at the Ulster Hospital. Jemima was seriously ill and so was Roberta, who’d had breathing problems for 10 days prior to her admission and was on oxygen the whole time she was there.
“Covid is the most unfeeling, horrible disease. It takes all the opportunity to connect with your loved ones away from you. Just think about someone like Jemima lying in her bed and none of her family able to go and see her.”
Mr Shannon’s personal intervention struck an emotional chord with his fellow MPs who rallied round in support.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: “Well done, Jim for struggling through that question.”
Paymaster General Michael Ellis, who answered an urgent question on behalf of the government from Labour about the reports, said he was “very sorry for his loss”.
Labour MP Afzal Khan spoke of a “solemn Eid” after his mother died alone in hospital in March 2020.
The Manchester Gorton MP said: “Even burdened with our grief, my family obeyed the rules. Just three days after the Downing Street party we marked a solemn Eid, the first without my lovely mum.
“When asked by Sky News about the parties, the Prime Minister did little but smirk and laugh. He should be here today, but as he is not can the minister confirm whether the Prime Minister will be apologising to bereaved families like mine for the anguish, pain and torment caused not just by hosting these parties, but for continuing to lie about it?”
Alliance Party MLA Kellie Armstrong, a Strangford MLA, tweeted her condolences: “My thoughts are with Jim Shannon and his family. I am so sorry Jim.
“Losing a loved one is devastating. Losing a loved one when isolation rules meant they passed alone, is horrific. Covid robbed so many from the opportunity to be with a person in their last days.”
And DUP leader Doug Beattie said his thoughts were with Mr Shannon and that the prime minister should step down “if, or once, this is proven”.
Mr Shannon’s question came after Labour MP Angela Rayner secured an urgent question to quiz the Government over the latest allegations.
At the time, Covid regulations meant that Britons in England could meet with just one person from outside their household bubble at a time.
Former leader of the Scottish Tories, Ruth Davidson, said: “People are (rightly) furious. They sacrificed so much — visiting sick or grieving relatives, funerals.”
The Met Police said it was aware of the reports of lockdown-breaking behaviour and the force was “in contact” with the Cabinet Office over it.