Public deserves answers, says MP who broke down in tears over death of his mother-in-law
A DUP MP has urged the Prime Minister to speed up the process of launching a public inquiry into the Covid-19 pandemic.
Jim Shannon said it was time for members of the public to have their say on how the Government had handled the health crisis.
He was speaking after Boris Johnson’s statement to the House of Commons following the publication of Sue Gray’s report into parties held in Downing Street during lockdown.
Strangford MP Mr Shannon said: “We all recognise there are many lessons to be learned from the handling of the pandemic [by] all levels of government, as the report states.
“But can the Prime Minister, working alongside the devolved administrations, give an indication as to when he will be launching the Covid-19 public inquiry that he promised?
“The general public have questions to ask, and answers must be given. When will the general public have their say?”
Mr Shannon broke down in tears in the House of Commons earlier this year when questioning the Prime Minister about the ‘partygate’ allegations.
The Strangford MP told colleagues how his mother-in-law had died alone with Covid during the pandemic.
He also called on the Government to ensure “full, complete disclosure” over the allegations.
A four-week consultation with bereaved families, stakeholder groups and members of the public has received more than 20,000 submissions on what the inquiry, to be headed by Baroness Hallett, should look at and how it should go about its work.
Mr Johnson said he was aware of the results of that consultation and promised that there would be further developments in the near future.
But Mr Shannon said: “It is time that the general public do what is proper and hold the administrations to account [with] all the information needed.
“I will look forward to the commencement of this inquiry.”
Following his emotional speech about the death of his mother-in-law, Jemima, Mr Shannon was inundated with letters of support from others who had lost loved ones to Covid.
“Jemima died in the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald, in a side ward,” he told the House of Commons in January.
“We couldn’t see her. We couldn’t hold her hand. We couldn’t tell her we loved her. We couldn’t tell her how much we would miss her.
“My sister-in-law, Roberta, was in intensive care in the same ward. She couldn’t even go across and see her because it was against the rules.
“We were only allowed 25 people at the funeral, [but we have] a big family. It’s aggrieved me greatly ever since.
“We had to put out an invitation list to the funeral because we had to restrict the numbers.
“There were people who wanted to be there who couldn’t be there. There were people who should have been there who weren’t.
“We followed all the rules, and so did everyone else who lost loved ones.”
His words will be familiar to any family that faced a bereavement during the crisis.
Many are furious that over revelations that parties were held at Downing Street while their relatives died alone.
The call for a public inquiry is supported by a group of families from Northern Ireland.
Members of Covid Bereaved Relatives for Justice believe their voices have not been heard and are hoping for an investigation sooner rather than later.
Martina Ferguson (nee Derry), from Portadown, attended an event in London at the end of March to mark the first anniversary of the National Covid Memorial Wall in Westminster.
Her mother Ursula Derry’s name is on the wall alongside thousands of other names.
Mrs Ferguson was among a group of people who met Baroness Hallett in Belfast to provide feedback on the terms of reference for the public inquiry.
“The Prime Minister should do the right thing: resign from public office with immediate effect,” she said.
“The low moral standing and deceitfulness has caused irreparable hurt and damage to all the bereaved families”.
She also claimed that the Prime Minister had “repeatedly lied and misled the public, describing his behaviour as “utterly shameful.”
The official inquiry into the ‘partygate’ scandal said the “senior leadership” in Boris Johnson’s administration should “bear responsibility” for the culture which led to lockdown rules being broken.
Mr Johnson faced fresh calls to resign in the Commons yesterday after Sue Gray’s report said the public would be “dismayed” by the series of lockdown-breaking gatherings.
The senior civil servant also condemned the wider culture that had developed under the Prime Minister’s leadership.