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Covid inquiry: What have we learnt about Northern Ireland’s response?

BMJ 2024; 385 doi: (Published 24 May 2024) Cite this as: BMJ 2024;385:q1160
  1. Inez Murray
  1. Belfast

The UK Covid Inquiry has heard testimony from politicians and officials in Northern Ireland about how the Executive responded to the pandemic.1Inez Murray reports

DUP WhatsApp messages expose Executive tensions

WhatsApp messages from high ranking Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) politicians revealed tense relations in the Northern Ireland Executive during the initial covid response.

The inquiry published over 60 pages of messages from a DUP group chat, including from former ministers Edwin Poots and Peter Weir as well as current deputy first minister Emma Little-Pengelly.

The inquiry has not published internal messages between Sinn Féin politicians. Messages from First Minister Michelle O’Neill were erased from the devices given to her during the pandemic, when she served as deputy first minister. O’Neill acknowledged at the inquiry these should not have been erased, saying, “I accept that I should have kept my additional exchanges and anything else that was relevant.”

In the published exchanges, Weir, education minister at the time, made comments about the leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland. Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, wrote to Weir at the start of the pandemic to call for the closure of schools. In reaction, Weir messaged an unnamed person that he “wasn’t aware of [Martin’s] qualifications in virology.” This person, whose name has been redacted, replied that Weir should “write back and tell him we …

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