UK Covid inquiry must hold hearings in Wales, Mark Drakeford has said
The First Minister has said that he will want to be reassured that the UK Government inquiry into the Covid pandemic will hold hearings in Wales before he fully backs a UK inquiry over a Wales-specific one.
Mark Drakeford was asked in the Senedd today by Senedd Member Paul Davies what it would take for him to call a Wales-wide inquiry rather than depending on the findings of the UK Government inquiry.
The First Minister answered that despite being satisfied that the inquiry would be lead impartially by Judge Hallet, who had an understanding of the devolved context, there were “a further set of issues that I will need to be satisfied about, about the way in which the inquiry itself will go about its business”.
“I will expect the inquiry to have access to expertise about Wales,” he said. “I will expect it to have hearings here, directly in Wales, to make sure that it can collect the experiences, the views and the questions of people in Wales who will want that inquiry to be able to make the best sense it can of the experience of families, patients, staff here in Wales during the pandemic.
“They will only get those answers, I believe, when they are able to explore what happened here in Wales within that wider and sometimes shaping UK context. That is why I believe that that remains the best way of getting answers that people will wish to see from an inquiry about what happened here in Wales.”
Paul Davies, the Senedd Member for Preseli Penfro, said that there were “calls now for a Wales-wide inquiry from organisations, from politicians and from families across Wales”.
“What will it finally take for the Welsh Government to agree to a Wales-wide inquiry, so that families can get justice and we can finally get answers in relation to decisions taken here in Wales by your Government?” he asked.
Mrk Drakeford answered: “What would it take for us to have a Wales-wide inquiry would be for me to lose faith, as he clearly has already, in the Prime Minister’s ability to deliver the inquiry that he has promised.
“Now, if I come to his lack of confidence in the Prime Minister’s willingness to do that, then I would have to think again about arrangements here in Wales. So far, as I’ve also explained many times in the past, the Welsh Government has had an opportunity to be involved in the appointment of the judge, Judge Hallett, who will lead the independent UK-wide inquiry, and I was satisfied with that appointment.
“I’m very glad that she is someone who has a very strong understanding of the devolved context and will bring an ability to ensure that that inquiry does focus on experiences here in Wales.”
There have been calls for a Wales-specific inquiry by the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Group, the British Lung Foundation, Medics 4 Mask Up Wales, the Institute for Welsh Affairs, and Plaid Cymru.
Earlier today Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies said that a decision not to hold one was “no longer tenable”.
“Under Mark Drakeford, Wales has experienced the highest Covid death-rate of UK nations, seen its children lose more time for learning than anywhere else in the country, and imposed economically cruel and clinically unnecessary restrictions in an overzealous attempt to tackle the Omicron variant,” he said.
“We, along with bereaved families and medical groups, believe that the decisions that led to these outcomes need to be put under the spotlight, not hidden in the shadow of an inquiry that will inevitably focus on the British Government.
“Indeed, if Mark Drakeford is so confident in the actions of his government, then why is he against having them examined in a Wales-specific inquiry? That is what people will be asking when British and Scottish leaders have ordered investigations into their own handling of the pandemic.
“As I say to the First Minister in my letter, it is not too late for him to change his mind and take this opportunity to do the right thing and order that inquiry.”
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