Women who lost parents to Covid-19 call for Northern Ireland specific inquiry

A woman whose father died from coronavirus has called for a specific Northern Ireland inquiry into government decision-making during the pandemic.

Bereaved families from across Northern Ireland gathered in Belfast on Tuesday to watch a livestream from London of the latest hearing in the UK Covid-19 Inquiry.

Members of Northern Ireland Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice are due to be interviewed as part of the inquiry.

But members of the campaign group have said they do not want the experiences of Northern Ireland families to be a “footnote” in the UK inquiry.

Catriona Myles’s father, Gerry McLarnon, died from hospital-acquired Covid on December 23 2020 at the age of 67.

She said: “We are campaigning for a separate inquiry for Northern Ireland as we don’t want to be held as a footnote to the UK-wide inquiry.

“We see ourselves in a unique position. We have a devolved government.

“From an epidemiological perspective we are a separate unit.

“We have a different health system to the rest of the UK. We deserve our own inquiry here.”

She added: “The bigger picture is that families want to get answers as to why us, why our families? Could things have been any different?”

“Going forward lessons will be learnt for future generations.”

Martina Ferguson’s mother, Ursula Derry, died in hospital, aged 88, in January 2021 after contracting Covid.

Ms Ferguson said: “We will be talking about the impact that this pandemic has had on bereaved families.

“I lost my mother-in-law, who was battling cancer throughout the pandemic, and then two weeks later I lost my own mummy, who contracted Covid in a care home and died in hospital.

“We have always campaigned for a devolved inquiry, and obviously, with no sitting government, that didn’t materialise.

“Northern Ireland will be very much part of that (the UK inquiry).

“We want to be heard, we don’t want to be a footnote, we want to be front and centre of this public inquiry.

“We want to find out what went wrong, what happened to our loved ones. Why did this happen, were they treated properly?”

Ms Ferguson added: “We want an effective investigation, we don’t want any evidential gaps, we want to make sure that it benefits everyone.

“We have still empty seats in houses, we will never get our loved ones back again.

“We want the truth, we want answers we were given to be fact-checked, we want accountability and lessons to be learnt.”

Brenda Doherty’s mother, Ruth Burke, was the first woman to die from coronavirus in Northern Ireland, in March 2020.

Ms Doherty said: “The then-prime minister had just made his lockdown speech. I got a phone call to say that Mum wasn’t going to survive Covid.

“Mum only went in to hospital because her warfarin levels were too high and unfortunately acquired Covid in there and never came home.

“We didn’t see her again. Mummy died without any of us with her. We met her at the cemetery gates.

“We weren’t allowed to touch the coffin, all the people at the cemetery were in white protective suits.

“Mummy was the heart of our family.

“The thought that none of us were with her in her final hours will always haunt us because we don’t know whether she understood what was happening and what her final minutes were like.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.