Express & Star

Daughter of Covid victim says actions of Stormont leaders ‘compounded grief’

Brenda Doherty was reacting at the conclusion of the Belfast hearings in the UK Covid-19 Inquiry.

Covid-19 pandemic inquiry

The daughter of a Covid-19 victim from Northern Ireland has said the actions of both Sinn Fein and the DUP compounded the grief of those bereaved during the pandemic.

Brenda Doherty accused Stormont’s leaders of placing political ideology above the health of citizens, stating this showed “the system is not fit for purpose”.

Ms Doherty’s mother Ruth Burke, 82, was the first woman from Northern Ireland to die from Covid in March 2020 after she contracted the virus in hospital.

Ms Doherty, one of the leading figures in the Northern Ireland Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, was reacting at the conclusion of evidence in the Belfast sittings of the UK Covid-19 Inquiry.

She said: “Over the last three weeks, we have heard evidence of delay, dysfunction and dereliction of duty by the political representatives who we relied on most during a time of crisis.

“The absence of our government for three years immediately prior to the pandemic left us totally unprepared for what was to come.

“When our elected representatives placed political ideology above the health of citizens by repeatedly, repeatedly collapsing the Executive, the system is not fit for purpose.”

Covid-19 pandemic inquiry
Members of Northern Ireland Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice hold a press conference outside the Clayton Hotel in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

She said the inquiry had heard “overwhelming evidence” that Northern Ireland’s political leaders had “sleepwalked” into the pandemic by failing to heed health warnings in early 2020.

She said: “Despite the loudest possible alarms being sounded, our representatives failed to act.”

She added that when the political response came, it was “much too late at a cost of thousands of people”.

Ms Doherty said: “Rather than learning lessons from the first wave of the pandemic, the same mistakes were repeated time and time again.

“I was always told the only bad mistake is the one you don’t learn from.”

Ms Doherty referenced the attendance of Sinn Fein members at the funeral of republican Bobby Storey in June 2020, and then the DUP’s triggering of a veto over proposed extensions to lockdown measures at an Executive meeting later in the year.

She said: “The scandals that have come to light, including the attendance of Sinn Fein ministers at the Bobby Storey funeral and the DUP’s cross-community vote have compounded the grief of the bereaved.

“That grief will never, never leave us.

“The apologies that have been offered will ring hollow unless they are followed by action to rectify the grave errors that have been made.

“We are interested in action, words mean nothing to us.”

Ms Doherty added: “The bereaved families expect that the recommendations of this inquiry are fully implemented without delay or qualification.

“The Northern Ireland government must reflect on their errors and ensure that they are never repeated.”

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