Campaigners urge First Minister Mark Drakeford to withdraw 'shameful' Covid inquiry comments

Campaigners have called the First Minister's comments "shameful". Credit: PA

The First Minister of Wales is being urged to withdraw comments he made about ongoing calls for a Wales specific Covid inquiry.

Speaking in the Senedd on Tuesday (October 4), Mark Drakeford told the chamber that the Covid Bereaved Families for Justice campaign group (CBFJC) was "moving on from continuing to ask for something which is not going to happen".

Since then, campaigners have said his remarks are "shameful" and "not true", explaining they do still want a Wales-only inquiry looking into the handlings of the pandemic.

The CBFJC was recently granted 'core participant' status in the UK-wide Covid-19 inquiry which began on October 4.

This status will mean that the group, along with others, will have a key role in the process of compiling the UK-wide inquiry into the handling of the nation's covid response.

The CBFJC was recently granted 'core participant' status in the UK-wide Covid-19 inquiry. Credit: Cardiff University

Discussing his support for the group's application for core participation status, the First Minister said: "I had written to them earlier this year supporting their application for core participation status. That will mean that they will be able to ensure that the voice of those people who are members of their group will be heard in that inquiry.

"I believe from the meetings I’ve had with them - I’ve met with them five times - that, unlike the leader of the opposition, they are moving on from continuing to ask for something which is not going to happen. Let me be clear about that.

"I’ve told you time and time again, there will be no inquiry of that sort here in Wales. They are moving on to put their energies and their efforts into making sure, as I want to see, that their questions are properly rehearsed, and the best answers provided in front of the Baroness Hallett inquiry."

Welsh Conservatives leader Andrew RT Davies called the comments "completely unacceptable". Credit: PA

In response, a number of Welsh politicians have also voiced their anger.

Andrew RT Davies said: "The First Minister will have upset many people yesterday when he said ‘the world has moved on’ when it comes to a Covid inquiry for Wales.

"Under Labour’s management of the pandemic, Wales had the highest Covid death rate in the UK. And those deaths aren’t just numbers, they’re empty spaces at dinner tables this Christmas, they’re families changed forever, they’re people taken before their time.

"Those families deserve answers, and it is completely unacceptable for the First Minister to misrepresent their views in the Welsh Parliament. He must now correct the record."

Plaid MS Rhun ap Iorwerth also called for the comments to be withdrawn "as a mark of respect to the campaigners".

In his letter, the Plaid Cymru spokesperson on health and care, explained: "The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru group are rightly angry that they were misrepresented by the First Minister Mark Drakeford in Plenary yesterday.

"They have not ‘moved on’ and, like me, remain convinced that COVID-19 decisions taken in Wales should be scrutinised in Wales. While some decisions were made at UK level, much of the response to the pandemic here in Wales has been in the hands of the Welsh Government, and the only way to truly learn lessons of the pandemic would be to have our own Wales-specific public inquiry."

On a similar stance, Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds said the comments were "disappointing" and that an apology should follow.

"The First Minister clearly misrepresented the views of the Covid Bereaved Families for Justice campaign today and should apologise and withdraw the claim. On the whole it was disappointing to see Labour today dismiss such a serious issue out of hand.

"If Labour supports devolution they must understand that with increased powers comes increased scrutiny. This should not be sought to be avoided. An inquiry is not about apportioning blame, but rather learning vital lessons to ensure we are more prepared for the future", the Liberal Democrat Leader said.

The UK covid inquiry is being chaired by retired Judge Baroness Heather Hallett, starting with a preliminary procedural hearing on Tuesday (October 4).

The report is expected to be split into separate sections based on topics, with an interim report produced after each one.

The first part of the inquiry will examine the "resilience and preparedness" of the UK for an event like the coronavirus pandemic.

Other parts will include looking at decisions made by devolved governments, including the Welsh Government. Evidence from the report is expected to be heard in summer 2023.

The Welsh Government says it will be responding to the letters in due course.