Transcript of Module 2C Preliminary Hearing on 2 November 2022

(10.00 am)

Lady Hallett: Good morning, everyone, welcome to the first preliminary hearing into Module 2C that will be focusing on the core decision-making in Northern Ireland.

I will leave it to Ms Clair Dobbin King’s Counsel to set out in a moment the background to this module, and how it will work.

Could I just say this, before I hand over to her: I want to emphasise, firstly, that this is a separate module from Module 2, 2A and 2B, and it will be considered separately with a dedicated team for it.

Secondly, I know that there have been some in Northern Ireland who have campaigned and asked for a separate Inquiry dealing only with Northern Irish issues. Obviously that’s not a decision for me and I am entirely neutral. But I will say this: if another Inquiry is established, I will work closely with it, as we are trying to do with the Scottish Inquiry, to try to ensure that no issues are missed and that we all minimise any duplication of effort.

If no other Inquiry is established for Northern Ireland, my team and I will do everything in our powers to ensure that the most significant and important issues that the people of Northern Ireland wish to see investigated will be investigated fully and fairly.

The aim, as I’m sure you all know, is for us to investigate, gather evidence, analyse and then to produce recommendations, if there are lessons to be learned, that may, if there is another pandemic in the future, save lives and reduce hardship.

So that’s our aim, and that is why I have set an ambitious timetable, because we have to get on with this Inquiry if we’re going to make a difference, and to get on with this Inquiry we’re going to need the fullest co-operation from core participants, and of course those to whom we make requests to provide documents.

So thank you all for your interest this morning, and I’ll now ask Ms Dobbin to set out more of the background. Thank you.

Statement by Lead Counsel to the Inquiry for Module 2C

Ms Dobbin: Thank you.

My Lady, on behalf of the counsel team, I first wanted to welcome those colleagues from Northern Ireland who appear on behalf of the core participants in Module 2C and who join us. We extend that welcome to core participants too, and we do so warmly.

This is, of course, our first hearing. It is but one of many steps that we will take which will culminate in the hearings in Module 2C, and we are really looking forward to working with all of the core participants and their representatives towards our common purpose, as Module 2C develops, and with your leave, I’ll say something about that common purpose in the course of this opening.

But it might assist if I start with some of the practical arrangements for today’s hearing.

So, first of all, it’s being recorded and livestreamed to other locations. And for our purposes, of course, the benefit of that is that people in Northern Ireland can participate in the hearing. And of course it also means that those people who might not be able to get to a hearing because they have to stay at home or they can’t travel, it means that it’s accessible to them as well, and it also means that a greater number of people will be able to attend Inquiry hearings than could be accommodated in the Inquiry hearing room as well.

But of course this is a public hearing, it’s open to all people. Under section 18 of the Inquiries Act you’re obliged to take such steps as you consider reasonable to ensure that members of the public are able to attend, or see and hear a simultaneous transmission of the proceedings, and by having livestreaming the Inquiry is able to go a very considerable distance to meet that obligation.

The broadcast has a three-minute delay. That’s important in an Inquiry when sensitive things might be touched upon. It means that if anything inadvertent is said, and we all know that that sometimes happens, it means that the live feed can be paused and it can be put right before it’s broadcast. So it gives everyone a degree of comfort in that regard.

We don’t expect anything like that to happen today, but if it does people will understand why the broadcast can be paused.

In terms of representation, you have core participants who are present today and represented in the hearing room. The Northern Ireland Bereaved Families for Justice are represented by Mr Lavery and Mr McGarrity. The Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland (COPNI) Ms Anyadike-Danes. And the Trades Union Congress is represented by Mr Jacobs. The National Police Chiefs’ Council is represented by Ms Neil.

But there are a number of core participants or their representatives who appear by way of remote attendance as well. Before you, you have the Executive Office of Northern Ireland, represented by Mr Sharpe and Ms Fee; Dame Arlene Foster, former First Minister, represented by Ms Ellison; Ms Michelle O’Neill, former deputy First Minister, represented by Ms Quinlivan and Mr Bassett. And Mr Givan, the former First Minister, represented also by Ms Ellison.

The Northern Ireland Department of Health is represented by Ms Fee. I should say that’s a different Ms Fee, Ms Fiona Fee, and the Northern Ireland Department of Finance is represented by Mr Hanna. And they may not be physically present in this room but they are of course just as much of today’s hearing as well.

Turning then to the core participants in Module 2, my Lady, you appointed these persons, organisations, parts of the government in Northern Ireland, as core participants in Module 2C because of their very particular interest in the matters which will be investigated, and you did so under Rule 5 of The Inquiry Rules 2006.

By so doing, you accorded them enhanced rights in this process. Those rights include that they’re entitled to address you in hearings like that one, they’re entitled to disclosure of evidence, they’re entitled to suggest or raise with the Inquiry possible lines of investigation or work, and they will in due course be able to inform the sorts of questions that are asked of witnesses.

But, and it’s really important to say this at the outset, individual people don’t have to be core participants or members of core participant organisations in order to play an important part of the work of this Inquiry.

They can do that by being part of the Inquiry’s Listening Exercise.

One aspect of that exercise is that it permits individuals who want to to give their account of how the pandemic impacted on them. But it would be wrong to think that its only purpose is to enable people to convey their experiences and to have them recorded, important though that ability to speak and to be heard will be for many people. But with your leave again, I’ll come back to that a little later in the opening and provide some more of the detail around that Listening Exercise.

But that ability on the part of the Inquiry to hear the voices of the many of those who suffered through the pandemic brings me to some overarching observations about the nature and the scale of the task before all of us.

When the Covid pandemic reached Northern Ireland, it brought suffering and pain, isolation and fear, to all of its people, regardless of their political or religious beliefs. It upended the lives of children, regardless of where they went to school. It fractured family life. It separated friends, regardless of where they lived. It took away the gatherings, the being together, important to people in Northern Ireland. It caused financial hardship and strain across communities, and it was indiscriminate in taking the lives of loved ones.

It’s the duty of this UK Inquiry in Module 2C, on behalf of the people in Northern Ireland, to understand how the government in Northern Ireland responded to the unfolding pandemic and to get to the truth about how decisions were made: what factors were taken into account in making the key decisions, the scientific and medical evidence upon which those decisions were based, how those who govern in Northern Ireland came together to make decisions for all of the community, whether there were impediments to decision-making. These are but some of the issues that will be examined.

The Inquiry team is acutely conscious of the unique and sensitive position that Northern Ireland occupies. Its constitutional settlement, through the Good Friday Agreement, means that the way its government functions has to be seen through a different lens to that of the other devolved nations. But the Inquiry will be no less searching for that, because that is the fundamental duty which this Inquiry has undertaken to discharge to the bereaved and to those who have suffered, in so many different ways, across the UK.

I mentioned at the outset the common purpose of the Inquiry and those who participate in it. My Lady, it is surely this: it’s to get to an accurate account of what happened so that it can be subject to scrutiny in all of the ways that you have touched upon in other hearings in this Inquiry.

But it is also to serve future generations by identifying anything which went wrong or, conversely, judgements well made. But to identify what could have been done better, to examine what the consequences were of decisions made or not made, to ascertain whether there were barriers to the achievement of the best outcomes. In short, the Inquiry’s mission overall is to ascertain what can be done now so that the scale of death and suffering seen does not happen again.

My Lady, you have made it known and you have stressed that you want this Inquiry to foster an inclusive approach, and that those who are vulnerable or disadvantaged or who were disproportionately affected by the pandemic are to the fore.

We hope that all core participants will join with us in this common cause. We encourage organisations, government, ministers, politicians, to participate in this Inquiry in this same spirit, not to defend positions at all costs but on the understanding that they have a vitally important role to play too in safeguarding future generations.

My Lady, that’s by way of introduction. I wanted to turn to the written submissions which core participants have made.

You received submissions from the Northern Ireland Bereaved Families for Justice, you received them from the TUC and for the Commissioner for Older People too. And we are really grateful to them, because it enables us as a counsel team to understand the issues that are most pressing to those core participants, and I mean no discourtesy by summarising what they have said briefly, because they’re going to develop what they have said before you in any event, but I wanted to flag a few issues that would have been addressed in this opening in any event.

The Northern Ireland Bereaved Families for Justice press the point that they think it’s very important that the Inquiry considers the response in Northern Ireland, having regard to the fact that Northern Ireland is in a single land mass with the Republic of Ireland, and they raise issues about whether there were possibly any failures by not treating the Republic of Ireland and the north of Ireland as a single epidemiological unit. And the families also point in this regard to the existence of a memorandum of understanding about public health agreed by the respective Departments of Health, and I think I can deal with some of those points in the course of this opening too.

They press the point about the importance of care homes in relation to the pandemic, and they also raise the point about whether or not there would be merit in Module 2C having a panel that sits with you, because of the particular features of Northern Ireland, having regard to its constitutional settlement and its relationship with the Republic of Ireland.

On behalf of the TUC, the concern is raised that the provisional terms of reference did not reflect that there was no functioning executive from 2017 to 2020. My Lady, that may have been somewhat lost in the detail of paragraph 3 of the outline of scope, but in fact the absence of ministers is one of the issues that is set out therein, and I’ll come back to that.

The TUC also seeks further information about the scope of future modules so that core participants can understand the delineation between those and the extent of any overlap with Module 2C.

The Commissioner for Older People has very helpfully set out in his written submissions the nature of his role and his willingness to assist the Inquiry, particularly as it relates to his constituency, and he raises of course the issue of those older people who died alone at home or in hospital or those older people who have been left with enduring illness as a result of the pandemic, or whose health outcomes have been adversely affected because of it.

My Lady, as I’ll come to, you appointed the Commissioner as a core participant because of his ability to represent a cross-section of older people in Northern Ireland. As has been set out in relation to Module 2, and I will come to as well, the focus here is on the decision-making process as opposed to how decisions ultimately impacted upon affected people.

But the Commissioner, has a real part to play in Module 2C insofar as he has a real interest in and contribution to make on the important point about whether and to what extent the decisions taken took into account assessment of the possible impact of decision-making on groups of particularly vulnerable people, and we in the Inquiry team very much welcome the approach that he has taken in his submissions.

Turning then, if I may, so the background to this module.

Between January 2017 and January 2020 the power sharing arrangements in Northern Ireland were suspended. On Saturday, 11 January 2020, the Assembly sat for the first time in three years. Dame Arlene Foster and Ms Michelle O’Neill were appointed to the offices of First Minister and deputy First Minister respectively. On that Saturday they spoke of the need to bring people together and of hope for the future.

As we all now know, at one and the same time, the Covid storm clouds were gathering on the horizon. The first confirmed case in Northern Ireland was reported on 28 February 2020. Cases continued to rise in early March. The first death, that of an older man, was recorded on 19 March 2020.

On Monday 23 March 2020, the then Prime Minister announced severe restrictions, the first national lockdown. This decision was made on a UK-wide basis, with the Prime Minister announcing the lockdown and the leaders of the devolved administrations making their announcements soon afterwards.

The population of Northern Ireland is approximately 1.9 million people. Recent figures calculate that in Northern Ireland the total number of Covid-19-related deaths registered from the start of the pandemic to around 21 October 2022 is 4,900. And those statistics are taken from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, published just a few days ago.

Since the beginning of the pandemic to 21 October of this year, the 75 and over age group accounted for almost two-thirds of all deaths and almost three-quarters of Covid-19-related deaths, of course reinforcing the point that the Commissioner makes so strongly about the extent to which it’s the elderly who are disproportionately represented in terms of those who died.

The rates of infection in Northern Ireland and of deaths varied over time and as against other parts of the United Kingdom. For example, in August 2021 a British Medical Journal [article] raised the question of why Northern Ireland had at that point such a high death rate from Covid-19. It’s current seven-day death rate per hundred thousand people at that time was more than twice as high as the wider UK and ten times as high as in the Republic of Ireland.

Now, of course, that is just a snapshot, but it does just show that issue about variability, and comparatively so as well. But, my Lady, each death, each case of serious illness will have devastated those affected. And for those who lost a loved one, as we all now know, that loss will be or will have been compounded by the absence of family and friends, the comfort that all of us expect to have in those times of bereavement.

The impact of the pandemic was surely felt by almost every person in Northern Ireland, but some more than others. It’s well understood that the pandemic placed health and social care services and systems under the most enormous pressure. Frontline staff of those services and those offering other vital services like transport or supermarket work exposed themselves to daily risk. Swathes of the economy were affected and impacted. Individuals lost employment, their business or job security.

But for many other people, my Lady, the cost was a hidden one. It meant living in housing that was poor, or unsuitable, or overcrowded. For some, there was no escape from violence or abuse at home. There was no or little respite for those families who cared for other family members within their home, or for those families with children with particular needs.

For other people, there was a cost to their mental health. For other people, illnesses have gone undiagnosed or untreated, and those delays cannot now be undone, or could not be undone.

There are other issues as to the impact on those with existing health conditions or those children whose education was interrupted for such a long time and whether that will impact on their potential into adulthood. And a further related issue which is pressing in Northern Ireland is the impact that the pandemic had on its fragile health system.

But coming back to Module 2C, my Lady, what this human cost points to is the need for rigorous investigation of the decision-making process at the outset. In Module 2C that investigative gaze is necessarily on how the most senior levels of government reacted to the pandemic and the decisions which they made, but particularly in respect of non-pharmaceutical interventions.

I’m sure that those interventions are imprinted on all of us, but of course they included those things like the lockdowns, the local restrictions, the working from home, the social distancing.

What will be investigated in Module 2C are those matters that fall within the Inquiry’s terms of reference and the provisional outline of scope document for Module 2C.

There may be those people in Northern Ireland who are unaware that there was a consultation process that informed both of these. As has been set out in the Module 1 hearing, after you were appointed and draft terms of reference had been formulated, you wrote an open letter to the public in which you announced that there would be a public consultation process on the draft terms of reference. And that was specifically so that you could take into account those issues which were pressing and of concern to the public.

You consulted widely across all four nations, and in March 2022 you visited Northern Ireland and you spoke to bereaved families there. And again, that was so that you could understand the issues in Northern Ireland which were most pressing and important to them.

In all, that process generated over 20,000 responses across the United Kingdom. A comprehensive independent report was produced which encapsulated the views expressed and the key themes that were produced as well. That, in turn, led you to revise the terms of reference in important ways, and those revisions were accepted by the then Prime Minister.

The Inquiry was formally opened on 21 July 2022, and it was at that point that you announced that it would proceed on a modular basis which would be announced and opened in sequence.

Module 2C is, as you say, quite separate to Module 2, but it is also integral to it as well. The provisional outline of scope for Module 2 was published on 31 August of this year, and it’s going to examine the core political and administrative governance and decision-making in the United Kingdom concerning high level response to the pandemic from January 2020, and it’s going to pay particular scrutiny to the decisions that were taken by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, as advised by the civil service, senior political, scientific and medical advisers and Cabinet subcommittees.

So Module 2C is the analogue to that in Northern Ireland, and, as I’ve already said, it will focus on the decision-making by the government, including the First Minister, the deputy First Minister, and other ministers during this period.

To that end, Module 2C was also opened on 31 August, alongside the counterpart modules in Wales and Scotland as well, and its provisional scope was published on the same day.

So, like all of those parts of the Inquiry which fall under the umbrella of Module 2, it will be intensely focused on the decision-making by the government in response to the pandemic, so between the early stages of the pandemic in January 2020 until the Covid restrictions were lifted in March 2022.

Its outline of scope is necessarily provisional, because Module 2C must, like its counterparts, be agile and capable of responding as the issues are revealed in terms of disclosure and evidence.

It’s inevitable that this will include consideration of the consequences of not having power sharing arrangements right up until the emergence of Covid and the response that that absence had on the response to the pandemic.

It seems to us, my Lady, that there are a series of really practical questions that that gives rise to. But standing back from that, the main question appears to be what impact it had on those who picked up the reins of power in January 2020 and who were not just beginning to run government again in Northern Ireland and all that that entails, but who were thrust headlong into dealing with a rapidly unfolding pandemic.

What was the legacy of the absence of power sharing arrangements on the institutions of government, on civil servants, on the health service? How did that shape the response by the government to the pandemic?

That means, naturally, that there’s going to be a focus on those politicians who held the highest offices in this module: the First Minister and the deputy First Minister. We do understand their relationship with the Executive Committee and the role of the Executive Committee in decision-making in Northern Ireland.

But the First Minister and the deputy First Minister do have a distinct position in the constitutional arrangements in Northern Ireland, and it was for that reason that you appointed them core participants in their own right. And between them they should be able to speak to the decisions that were made in the Executive in terms of those key decisions that will be subject to scrutiny.

But again, my Lady, standing back and pulling the lens out, as it were, I anticipate that what you may also want to scrutinise, given the unique power sharing arrangements in Northern Ireland, is whether and to what extent politicians pulled together for the good of all people and to what effect.

Like all of the devolved nations, Module 2C will also seek to understand the relationship between the government in Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom Government as well in that decision-making process, whether and how that relationship impacted upon the decisions which the government in Northern Ireland made. And that will include examination of the information, the advice, the expertise provided by the UK Government and other relevant international and national bodies as well. But I suppose, in summary: what was the nature of the relationship, the dialogue, the communication, between the United Kingdom Government and the devolved nations? And did that relationship work in Northern Ireland so as to produce the best outcomes for people?

Northern Ireland is quite distinct from Scotland and Wales in terms of its history, its geography, its constitutional arrangements. It shares a border, of course, with the Republic of Ireland and that adds a different dimension again, as compared to the other devolved nations. As set out in the provisional scope document, the Inquiry will also consider the extent to which decisions were informed by the response of the government in the Republic of Ireland as well.

But I thought it would help at least if I said or indicated that we are aware of the matters that the bereaved families have raised as well about the issue of Northern Ireland being an epidemiological unit with the Republic of Ireland, and we’re aware of the memorandum of understanding as well, and we have sought to ask relevant bodies about that in the Rule 9s as well.

A good example of that, for example, is the public health authority in Northern Ireland. We have asked that body a series of questions about their interactions with counterparts in the Republic of Ireland or about co-operation in the Republic of Ireland. So we are aware of that.

Just turning to the really significant decisions that the investigation will focus on, Module 2C will consider the timeliness of the interventions, whether there were viable alternatives, whether different decisions might have produced different outcomes.

We hope to investigate what the driving forces of the decision-making were. Put another way, were there overarching principles which informed how government approached the decisions it had to make or which guided decision-making? Did politicians have consistent objectives that they sought to meet when they were making decisions? Did they have ethical frameworks within which they ought to make those decisions as well? Those are all the sorts of things we hope will be encompassed in the investigation.

Also, to what extent was it possible to reliably foresee or measure the consequences of the decisions that were taken? Not just in terms of the spread of the pandemic as well but all of the other ways that they affected society as well. Were there steps that could have been taken to mitigate those other potential consequences?

Of course, implicit in all of those questions is understanding the extent to which there was assessment of the impact that the decisions would have on existing inequalities.

Being clinically vulnerable is one potential area of inequality, and perhaps it’s the one that comes most to mind when we consider Covid, but we know that there are many other people who have been disproportionately affected, and we’ve touched on some of those already: the people on frontline services, the disabled, the elderly, children, those with chronic health needs, and members of ethnic minority communities. In common with the other Modules 2 and 2A and 2B, we will also seek to ascertain the extent to which the different groups of people who stood to suffer particular disadvantage because of the pandemic were identified as part of the decision-making process, and the degree to which this was factored into that important decision-making.

And of course, as I’ve already said, that’s the very reason why you have appointed representative bodies as core participants in Module 2C, but we will also be seeking witness statements and evidence from other statutory bodies who have important roles in relation to people with protected characteristics, and I will return to that.

My Lady, the four nations were not in lock-step with each other in terms of the measures which they took to tackle the pandemic, and that’s not to suggest that they should have been, but there are issues about why there was divergence, whether the taking of divergent approaches mattered, and again, whether or not that impacted on the overall effectiveness of the response to the pandemic.

It’s also clear that the pandemic put those experts – and by this we broadly mean those with scientific, statistical and medical expertise – under great pressure to produce data and advice at pace and to make that comprehensible to civil servants, advisers and politicians who would go on to use it to inform their decision-making. And again in Module 2C we wish to investigate that further and understand the extent to which those charged with the high-level decision-making were able to assimilate and understand the science of responding to the pandemic as well.

Module 2C will also consider the wider issues around health messaging. Were there issues particular to Northern Ireland that the health communications needed to tackle? Were the communications as effective as they could have been? Were there any factors which impacted upon public confidence in the steps the government was asking the public to take in response to the pandemic?

My Lady, these are some of the provisional matters which Module 2C anticipates will be investigated and that we have begun the process of sending Rule 9 letters out in respect of.

My Lady, in terms of the future course of the Inquiry, one of the issues which has been raised is how the Inquiry will develop and what part Northern Ireland will play as the Inquiry does develop. In Module 2, because the focus is on those crucial, very high-level decisions, it was clear that the devolved nations need to have these sub-modules, but the ambit of later modules and how the interests of the devolved nations will be represented in those as the Inquiry progresses is a matter which is under consideration.

You indicated in July 2022 that one further module would be Module 3, and that that would examine the impact of Covid on healthcare systems generally and on patients, hospital and other healthcare workers and staff. More detail was set out about that on Monday in the hearing in Module 2. I wasn’t going to repeat everything that was said about that on Monday, but I think it’s important to say that Module 3 will include consideration of the impact of the pandemic on healthcare systems in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and that this will include issues such as the capacity of healthcare systems to respond to the pandemic and how they evolved, healthcare-related inequalities, core decision-making within the healthcare systems. And other matters that you have directed will be inquired into include staffing levels, critical care capacity, palliative care, the issue about Do Not Attempt Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation instructions, those really important issues that arise in connection to healthcare. I thought it was important to say something about that and to indicate the level of detail with which those issues will be considered.

As regards later modules, you have indicated broadly that they will cover both system issues and impact issues across the United Kingdom, and that this will include issues like: vaccines, therapeutics and antiviral treatment across the UK; the care sector; government procurement and PPE; testing and tracing; government business and financial responses across the UK, and impact on business sectors; health inequalities and the impact of Covid-19; education and children and young people; the impact on public services and public sectors; and issues like hospitality, retail, sport and culture.

My Lady, it may be that different modules take different approaches dependent on their subject matters, because there is an inherent flexibility to the modular system. But the Inquiry would wish to make clear that those issues significant to Northern Ireland will be considered with rigour as the Inquiry develops.

May I say a brief word about the Rule 9 requests that we have made.

The Inquiry started its work on 21 July and, like all public inquiries, a very good deal went on to get the Inquiry set up and instituted, and that included getting Module 2C started.

The work has included the sending of the initial really important Rule 9 letters to organisations who are significant because the disclosure that we seek from them will be fundamental to our work, and it’s likely that the disclosure we get from them will inform the further Rule 9 disclosure requests that we make.

Those initial requests have been sent to the Northern Ireland Executive, the Department for Health, the Northern Ireland Office and the Public Health Agency.

That process of issuing Rule 9 letters is ongoing and iterative. It’s expected that within the next few weeks those requests will also be sent out to the government departments in Northern Ireland, the Office of Northern Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer, statutory bodies responsible for safeguarding and promoting the rights and interests of vulnerable people as well.

I just wanted to say, though, that the Rule 9 letter to the Executive Office is of obvious import. It’s a critical one. Aside that it seeks a corporate statement about the processes by which decisions were made by the government in Northern Ireland, it also seeks extensive disclosure. And the type of disclosure sought, and I emphasise this is just to indicate some of the things that have been sought, is extensive.

So what we’ve asked for are things like the key policy and guidance documents, position papers, policy advice, any framework agreements which were entered into that relate to the issues that have been asked about, a chronological list of key meetings, so meetings at which significant decisions were made or discussed. For those sorts of meetings, the agendas, submissions to ministers, briefing notes, pre-reading, actions, action trackers.

That’s just, again, a snapshot but it’s important to, I think, make clear the detailed sort of material that we are seeking from the Executive Office. Because what we ultimately want to get is the record of how the key decisions were made and what underpinned the decisions. So we expect to receive a record of the discussions which led to the decisions and, as I’ve said, the underlying material. And we hope that once we have that that will obviously – and the disclosure from the other key organisations – that will be the spine of our disclosure and provide us with that ability then to go to other people, other organisations, on the basis of what we know to ask for that more detailed disclosure or that ability to ask very specific things of people that we know that they must know about.

A team of solicitors, barristers and paralegals is ready and waiting to review the material that we receive for relevance.

An issue that has been raised over the course of the past couple of days, and indeed in relation to Module 1, and you gave a ruling about it, is the disclosure of Rule 9 requests. The submission which has been made to you by the Inquiry teams is that the disclosure of Rule 9 requests is not required by the Rules, nor established by past practice, and that given that almost all of the Rule 9 requests will be superseded by and built upon further iterative requests from the Inquiry, disclosure of the Rule 9 requests would of itself not serve any particular purpose, because they would be bound to be built upon in any event. And of course core participants will get to see the relevant material which that generates as well.

But what you indicated in the ruling in Module 1, and it was referred to in the hearing in Module 2, is that the Inquiry is also undertaking to provide an update as well, I think it’s a monthly update, as to disclosure and where it has reached in each of the sub-modules as well.

Turning then to disclosure to core participants.

My Lady, public inquiries, like other investigative bodies, are a bit like funnels. That’s the analogy that’s often drawn. By their Rule 9 requests they seek a variety of material which is likely to be relevant or may be relevant, and upon inspection it may not be or it may lead the Inquiry down a different investigative route to a more relevant document or piece of evidence.

The point is that by a process of assessment for relevance, the Inquiry is able to refine that which it ultimately provides to core participants.

In an Inquiry like this, there is an obvious need for balance. The number of potentially relevant documents held by core participants or organisations across the UK is vast. Reference was made on Monday to that maximum public law that too much disclosure can be as damaging as too little, and I was reminded of something that Lord Justice Singh, who has given lots of important judgments on disclosure, said in the well known case of Hoareau, he warned against parties off-loading – those are his words, not mine – a “huge amount” of disclosure on another party and asking them “to find the ‘needle in the haystack’”. And what he emphasised was the importance of parties assisting the court in order to get to the key issues.

Lord Justice Singh’s concern can apply equally to public inquiries. Too much disclosure can be derailing. It can obscure that which is really important. And as contemplated by Lord Justice Singh, critical documents are much harder to find in a morass of marginally relevant or irrelevant documents.

So in Module 2C we will strive to get that balance right by our iterative process, not by making requests of core participants which amount in reality to just asking them for everything or almost everything or which excuse them from exercising critical judgement or assessment as to what’s been asked for.

We’ve started by asking for the materials relevant to the making of key decisions but we will fan out from there and we will make further iterative requests from disclosure, and that will build upon what has already been received and it will go to the issues that the Inquiry considers of particular relevance.

But it’s really important to say that those persons and organisations who have been asked for disclosure can really play a part in that, and we have reiterated the point to them that we do expect them to engage in the process in the spirit of co-operation.

We have indicated that organisations should be candid where questions have been asked of them intended to elicit information about difficulties which they encountered or where systems didn’t work as effectively as they might have done in response to the pandemic. And material providers have been asked and will be asked to bear that in mind in terms of their approach to requests for information and disclosure, and to work with us to ensure that the Inquiry has access to all materials of relevance and not just those that we have asked for.

We’re really grateful for the positive engagement and the willingness to assist that has thus far been pledged, but we do, on behalf of the Inquiry, need to make it quite clear that the Inquiry will be robust in its approach to disclosure requests and it does expect full co-operation from all those who hold relevant material.

My Lady, you also ultimately have the power to compel disclosure as well under section 21 of the Inquiries Act. We haven’t asked you to exercise that power yet, but we won’t hesitate to do so if we think that there is any holder of relevant materials who needs to be compelled.

So these are some of the steps that will be taken in relation to disclosure: first, as has been indicated by the Inquiry, disclosure updates will be provided so as to report on progress which has been made in obtaining relevant documents. Every core participant will receive the same documents in their module.

We will provide all documents that the Inquiry has received, subject to three things: first, a relevance review so that only relevant documents are provided; a de-duplication exercise; and then redactions, but in accordance with the redactions protocol. For example, that most obviously applies where, for example, there’s personal information about people or by the making of any restriction order by you, my Lady.

Disclosure will take place in substantial tranches, it’s not going to be piecemeal, and the system that will be used for its management is Relativity.

My Lady, I said that I would return to the Listening Exercise. I hope that’s a convenient point to do so.

It’s the process by which the experiences of bereaved families and others who have suffered because of the pandemic can be provided to the Inquiry and listened to or read, then analysed and summarised and provided to the Inquiry teams and to core participants for use in public hearings.

As has already been stated in respect of Module 2, this isn’t analysis or summary of statistics or data, but rather of experience. By this means, the Inquiry will be able to hear the voices of the people of the UK and to reflect upon their experiences, but also to incorporate – and this is important – those accounts into its work. So the summaries of the accounts given by people and the accompanying analysis of those accounts will be fed into the public hearings as written evidence.

The Listening Exercise gives opportunity to contribute to the work of the Inquiry but in a way that requires no formality nor any need to attend a hearing, and it’s open to all of those people whose lives have been affected across the spectrum of human experience. And of course no one person’s experience or loss will be the same as another’s, and the Listening Exercise enables this Inquiry to capture that full breadth of human experience across the United Kingdom, but including from those people who would never otherwise come forward or whose voices would never be heard in the setting of a formal public inquiry. It allows people to come forward and say what happened to them in circumstances where they otherwise might not. And we really hope that people in Northern Ireland will contribute to the work of the Listening Exercise.

So it will support the Inquiry’s legal process, but – people need not be worried – it’s not a legal process in and of itself, and the experiences which people share will not be filed in the hearings by way of direct evidence or as individual testimony. Their accounts will be anonymised.

The plans for the Listening Exercise have been set out in a note from the Solicitor to the Inquiry which is available on the Inquiry website, but, as was set out in the hearing in Module 2, piloting of different approaches to the Listening Exercise is going to start shortly. Obviously the piloting is important because the architecture of the Listening Exercise has to be just right.

In November there’s going to be a pilot of an online platform whereby people will be invited to share their experiences via the Listening Exercise website. And then later, in the winter and into the spring, a pilot in-person and online process will start with group sessions, and over time those trials will increase in scales until the Listening Exercise is running at full capacity next year.

My Lady, may I touch upon the issue of expert witnesses.

The Inquiry has provisionally identified a number of specialist areas in relation to which lay and expert witnesses may give evidence in Module 2, and in broad terms the specialist areas that Module 2 has identified may include the following: public policy and governance, systems for measuring and the estimation of infections and deaths and the registration of deaths, statistical methods in infectious disease epidemiology and the modelling, government and public communications, and behavioural science. That’s just a summary.

We on behalf of Module 2C will consider whether issues relevant to Northern Ireland could be captured by the same experts, but will also consider any areas of specialism that it might have specific Northern Irish expertise on for Module 2C. And I think as has already been said, in the event that experts are instructed, for example, letters of instruction setting out the parameters of their work and the questions that they will be asked will be prepared. The questions that experts are asked to address will be made available to core participants in advance of any report being finalised, and core participants will be provided with an opportunity to provide observations on them.

My Lady, again with your leave, I just wanted to end this opening on the issue of commemoration.

Because the scale of the loss which this Inquiry will consider is unprecedented, so too must it find different ways to acknowledge those who died. One of the purposes of commemoration is to remind core participants and the Inquiry of the people who are at the centre of its work, to bring them to mind, to remind everyone that behind all of the legal processes, the issues, the forensic points, there are people who were loved and who are missed, and who sight must not be lost of.

In this Inquiry, the scale of loss is so great and the experience of loss through Covid so wide, so proximate to all, that on behalf of the Inquiry team we wanted to reiterate that this loss of sight will not happen. Consideration of those who died, of the loss suffered by those who continue to live, will naturally permeate all aspects of the Inquiry’s work, and of Module 2C’s work.

The Inquiry is considering other ways to remember and to reflect upon those people who died. My Lady, I know that consideration is being given to perhaps a physical installation at a hearing centre which could be a static or mobile artwork or something more organic that grows over time, such as a book of commemoration or a video wall, and that you’re also looking at how the Inquiry website can be used for commemoration.

But I know, and that you will want this to be emphasised, that you want the Inquiry to work with those representatives of those most affected to develop a fitting commemoration and that the Inquiry will notify effective groups of its developing thinking and involve them as appropriate in the coming weeks.

My Lady, just then in terms of future hearings.

It’s anticipated that there will be a further preliminary hearing for Module 2C in the early part of 2023. The Module 2 hearing will take place in and around summer 2023, but the public hearing in Module 2C will take place in Northern Ireland in early 2024, and I think the provisional marking for it is about three weeks, and this will be kept under review. So I think it’s important to say that there’s a slightly different timetable then for Module 2C.

My Lady, those are the opening submissions on behalf of Module 2C. Is there anything that I can assist you with?

Lady Hallett: Not at this stage, thank you very much indeed, Ms Dobbin, it’s been extremely helpful.

We shall take a break now and I will return at 11.15. Thank you.

(11.00 am)

(A short break)

(11.15 am)

Submissions on Behalf of Northern Ireland Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice by Mr Lavery

Lady Hallett: Mr Lavery.

Mr Lavery: Good morning, my Lady.

Lady Hallett: Good morning, Mr Lavery.

Mr Lavery: As your Ladyship knows, at this stage the people I represent are the Northern Ireland Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, and I have outlined before, but for the purposes of this, I’m just going to say very briefly who these people are.

First of all, they’re a formidable group of people, headed by Martina Ferguson, who is here, and she is over at the Inquiry today, my Lady, and Brenda Doherty. And they’re represented by myself and Conan Fegan, Malachy McGowan, and the team from PA Duffy, who are over here today as well, and represented that group at the Module 1 and Module 2 on which I’ve already addressed your Ladyship.

This is the first module dealing specifically with Northern Ireland but, as I said to your Ladyship in Module 1, we and the people I represent first met you at a Listening Exercise in the Europa Hotel in Belfast in March, and indicated to you at that previous preliminary hearing how much everybody was struck by the humanity you showed at that event and how moved you were, and everybody, by the accounts given, the personal accounts given of everybody there. It was a group of about 15 or 20 people. And how deeply impacted those people were by the – not just the effect of the bereavement, but the impact that the restrictions had on their last moments with their loved ones, and saying goodbye to their loved ones, and those end of life decisions that they were forced to make in the most difficult and extreme circumstances, without any advice and with very little support.

I say that by way of opening, and we have addressed in the previous modules the issue of the Listening Exercise and how that might evolve and the process that the Inquiry is putting in place to deal with that, and what I wanted to share as well was, at that event in the Europa, how you shared with us the impact that hearing accounts like that had on you at that event and in previous inquiries in which you had been involved, deep personal impact.

I’m not going to go over how the Listening Exercise is to be carried out, but there is room, we think, still for a – because of the scale of this module and the amount of people involved, that the Inquiry would at least keep under consideration some form of pen portrait exercise when the Inquiry sits in Northern Ireland, for instance, or at some stage. That would be very important to the people that I represent.

We welcome the other core participants that are here today as well, my Lady. The TUC are making an important contribution, have done in the other modules. And of course today we have the Commissioner for Older People of Northern Ireland.

We agree that it wouldn’t be possible to set out – it wouldn’t be practically possible to set out in any detail all of the issues that will be addressed in the course of the Inquiry. And as Ms Dobbin said in her address to your Ladyship earlier on today, she did carefully and accurately summarise the thrust of our submissions about what should and might be – should be the focus of Module 2C. We are encouraged. It’s a mark, I think, of the role that the core participants can and will play that our submissions so far have been listened to and the response from Ms Dobbin today to those submissions is very much to be welcomed.

For instance, when she says that the focus – that there will be a focus on those who held the highest offices in Northern Ireland, that the role of the central government she addressed your Ladyship upon earlier, and how does that fit between Module 2 and Module 2C, that central government’s awareness of the unique situation of Northern Ireland, what kind of contingency there was for that, and what the response was.

I have addressed your Ladyship on the uniqueness of the situation in Northern Ireland, and Ms Dobbin referred in particular this morning to the – which I know has been addressed by the TUC in their submissions – the three-year hiatus up until January of 2020. But unfortunately what is an ongoing feature of Northern Ireland has been periods when there has been no Assembly, or no functioning Assembly, or the mandatory coalition arrangement that is government devolved in Northern Ireland under the Good Friday Agreement. It’s uncontroversial to say at this stage, my Lady, during another period of no Assembly and no government, that there is a state of dysfunction in devolved government in Northern Ireland which central government ought to be aware of, as I say, ought to make contingency for, and be able to respond to.

I mention that when I say that our submissions are and have been addressed. I also say, my Lady, it’s very important that we’re here and that we make contact with the Inquiry team on a personal basis, and we want to offer our support and collaboration with the team, and so I’m highlighting these as features where we have raised issues and that they appear to have been addressed and considered by the team.

For instance again, and Ms Dobbin referred to this earlier, that the Rule 9 requests would be targeted at the issue of co-operation with the Republic of Ireland dealing with those matters that we dealt with in our written submissions.

Just touching on those submissions, my Lady, and I mentioned the unique features of Northern Ireland. Of course there’s the dysfunctional devolved government, but two other prominent features are that we don’t have an NHS as such, we have a universal healthcare arrangement where health is dealt with together with social care by the same bodies – there are five separate bodies dealing with this – and how they joined up, how their thinking was joined up, if it was at all. And of course the Inquiry will want to look at how far those senior politicians and decisions they made filtered all the way down to decisions that were made on the ground.

So that’s the unique feature. But of course the island of Ireland as a single – it’s a word I struggle with, my Lady, your Ladyship referred to it – juridical – on Monday – epidemiological unit.

Of course, that goes without saying when you think about it, but such is the nature and history, which again Ms Dobbin referred to, about Northern Ireland that it is sometimes forgotten.

The island of Ireland – there is a reference to border controls and the extent to which decisions were informed by the response of the Government of the Republic of Ireland, and Ms Dobbin has indicated today that – how that will be fleshed out and looked at, and that is to be welcomed.

So there’s the epidemiological unit and then there’s the memorandum of understanding that existed between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland Health ministers.

It came as a surprise to us when we were looking at this, my Lady, that for the last 24 years there has been a single all-island institute for public health for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which was set up under the Good Friday Agreement and is directly accountable to the Chief Medical Officers in Belfast and Dublin. This was looked at by SAGE in its report of 12 May 2020, and when they were looking at managing the risk of exporting and importing cases from countries with high risks of transmission, they identified a serious loophole where they said it will be perfectly possible for someone to fly from somewhere where the level of infection is extremely high, such as New York to Dublin, and then change planes to travel to London. For this and for other reasons related to the extent of movement across the Irish border, it makes much more sense either to treat the two main islands of Britain and Ireland as separate entities for human health purposes, as is already the case for animal health, or for the UK and Republic of Ireland to agree a common approach.

Again, I mentioned that, in Module 2, what connection was there between the governments in Dublin and London, and what impact the common travel area has on dealing with matters relating to the pandemic.

And that there were three issues identified by Dr Scally, who is Honorary Professor of Public Health at University of Bristol and president of the Epidemiology and Public Health section of the Royal Society of Medicine, and he said that there are three outstanding issues that require an urgent all-Ireland response. One was the investigation of the relatively high incidence of cases of coronavirus in the border counties of the south. And the second is the difficult issue of putting airport restrictions. The third is the nonsensical difference between the recommendation, under some circumstances, of 14 days’ isolation in the south and seven days in the north. And he wrote further in February 2021 again identifying:

“… two missing components of successful zero Covid strategy in Ireland … firstly, mandatory hotel quarantining for travellers arriving on the island and secondly, effective north-south co-operation.”

Just to quote him briefly, my Lady, if I may:

“You cannot have this situation, which we know doesn’t work, of voluntary self-isolation combined with a lack of co-operation north and south … Government ministers in Dublin insist that it is impossible to cooperate with the North because of the DUP and we can’t have an all-island strategy. In reality, it’s a failure of the body politic, both north and south.

“Meanwhile, we have now far exceeded the number of deaths from ‘the Troubles’. Don’t tell me it’s impossible for the administrations north and south to co-operate on this; that is stupid.”

These difficulties again were highlighted by a study entitled “Obstacles to Public Health That Even Pandemics Cannot Overcome: The Politics of COVID-19 on the Island of Ireland”. Again, just to quote briefly from that study:

“Public health narratives that frame the island of Ireland as a [single epidemiological unit] or for Covid-19 are seen to push NI one step closer to a united Ireland, and coming on foot of the Brexit trade deal between the UK and the EU, unionist concerns are at an all-time high. Ultimately, Brexit has further ‘politicised and toxified the British-Irish political landscape’ so much so that public health responses are automatically viewed as constitutional threats.”

And they go on to say:

“… however, this study has demonstrated substantial public health policy alignment brought about through ongoing dialogue and cooperation between the health administrations in each jurisdiction. While this is cause for optimism, the outbreak of Covid-19 on the island of Ireland is a reminder that there are political obstacles to public health that even pandemics cannot overcome.”

The idea that political decisions were made in Northern Ireland against the background of binary constitutional issues – should we follow Dublin or London in the way that we approach a pandemic? – and how much that featured is something that’s important to look at in the Northern Irish context.

Then, my Lady, the second issue under this is this memorandum of understanding that was arrived at between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland Health ministers, and this was formulated on 7 April 2020 where the memorandum of understanding committed the NI Executive and the Republic of Ireland Government to “coordination and cooperation” in response to Covid-19, with the active involvement of health administrations to protect as paramount “the lives and welfare of everyone on the island … and no effort will be spared in that regard”.

Again, Dr Scally commented on this and described it as a meaningless document:

“The language remains great and the sentiment is excellent, but I don’t think anyone could point to anything that it has influenced for the better. There is no use in having this wonderful tool is no one is prepared to pick it up and use it.”

And the failure to put that to proper use we say were choices or failures of political and administrative decision-makers, and which clearly had a deleterious impact upon the way the pandemic was managed.

Ms Dobbin has mentioned the issue of care homes, which we raised, and that that will be a central issue to be looked at. 30% of all deaths in Northern Ireland from the pandemic occurred in care homes.

The issue of Rule 9 requests, my Lady, has been dealt with, and we addressed you in previous submissions relating to that. I’m not going to dilate on that any further nor on the issue of disclosure to core participants.

We have suggested that there might be a role for expert panels as happened in at least two other Inquiries in Northern Ireland, the Inquiry into Urology Services, and the Neurology Inquiry in Northern Ireland, that is –

Lady Hallett: Sorry to interrupt, Mr Lavery. By that you mean expert panel advisers or panelists to sit with me as decision-makers?

Mr Lavery: Well, panel expert – this is something that has – it can be looked at either way. I mean, we have an open mind about this as well. But it’s something – first of all, panel members, and the identity of those, and whether or not there is going to be panel members for Northern Ireland, and whether they’re going to be bespoke, with a particular knowledge of and interest in the issues that we’re looking at and Republic of Ireland issues. But I’m certainly not suggesting that your role, my Lady, should be usurped in some way by a panel of experts, a panel working with your Ladyship in that regard, and who can advise and look at material –

Lady Hallett: I was only asking –

Mr Lavery: – (overspeaking) – not just on an individual basis.

Lady Hallett: Sorry to interrupt you. I was only asking because, as you know, to have decision-making panel members is a matter for the Prime Minister, not for me.

Mr Lavery: Yes.

Lady Hallett: But I certainly have been looking at, and as Ms Dobbin outlined, the idea of having panels of experts to advise the Inquiry is something I think is well worth exploring.

Mr Lavery: Yes.

Lady Hallett: So maybe we’re saying the same thing.

Mr Lavery: It may well be, my Lady. But again, and I hope this will be an ongoing feature of the collaboration in this Inquiry, that it’s something we’ve raised and that Ms Dobbin has indicated in her submissions today she is looking at, and your Ladyship as well, actively considering those issues which we raise and that we think highlights the role – the important role that core participants can play in the Inquiry going forward.

So, my Lady, that is all that I wish to say at this stage, unless I can be of any further assistance.

Lady Hallett: No, I’m very grateful, Mr Lavery. I have expressed my gratitude to you before, but I will do it again, because this is an independent module. You were there, you know how moving an experience I found meeting the bereaved during the consultation exercise, and Belfast was a particularly moving visit. And I learnt at first-hand the – bereavement is bad enough but bereavement during a time of pandemic is something very different, and very much worse. And I certainly was grateful for the bereaved who attended and explained, gave their accounts of what had happened to them.

As far as – which leads into the pen portrait evidence question. I suspect there may be ways in which I can meet my duties and my aims and allay your concerns, so I promise you that is a matter that is still under consideration. It may not be what you would call pen portrait evidence, but there will be ways, I’m sure, in which we can make sure that each module has that human element. This is not just a question of calling decision-makers, but it has the human element. So I promise you I am still thinking about subjects of that kind.

And as far as the issues you raised about the relationship with the Republic of Ireland, they’re very important issues, I am very conscious of them. And as you heard, Ms Dobbin and the team are also very conscious of them. And with your assistance and the assistance of other core participants, we will investigate them thoroughly.

So thank you again for your help and your offers of collaboration and co-operation. Thank you.

Mr Lavery: Thank you, my Lady.

Lady Hallett: Right. Is it Ms Anyadike-Danes?

Submissions on Behalf of the Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland by Ms Anyadike-danes

Ms Anyadike-Danes: I think it’s still good morning, my Lady.

Lady Hallett: It is just.

Ms Anyadike-Danes: And it’s very nearly that. It’s Anyadike-Danes.

Lady Hallett: I’m so sorry! I did ask. I do apologise. As Mr Lavery has confirmed, I have been having a few problems with words.

Ms Anyadike-Danes: Well, firstly, by way of introduction, I appear for the Commissioner for Older People in Northern Ireland, and I’m here with my instructing solicitor, Aimee Miller, who is head of legal services for the Commissioner. And participating remotely is my junior, Bobbie-Leigh Herdman.

The first thing I want to do is to, on behalf of the Commissioner, thank you for granting him core participant status for this module.

He hopes that may not be the only one. But in any event, for now, to thank you for that. And also for permitting me to make these oral submissions on his behalf.

I want to really do two things with the opportunity that your Ladyship has given me. The first is to say something about the Commissioner’s constituency, his role and his concerns. Partly because there are other people participating remotely or who will read about this hereafter who may not be aware of what that is, although I certainly hope all his constituencies are, but also because not everyone in the four jurisdictions has a Commissioner for Older People, and so it might be informative from that point of view.

So I want to say something about that, and his objective for participating in this Inquiry.

Then the other thing I want to do is really to pick up on some of the matters that we addressed in the written submissions, which were primarily directed to your legal team’s note which, frankly, we found very helpful indeed, as did we find Ms Dobbin’s address this morning.

So that’s what I really want to do, and of course respond to anything that your Ladyship may ask of me.

So if I start with the Commissioner’s constituency and role. As of March 2021, Northern Ireland had an over 60s older population of approximately 439,600. And that represents, at that time, some 23% of the total population of Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland has some 473 residential care homes catering for that population. There are residential care homes that cater for other populations of vulnerable people who may become relevant as your Ladyship moves forward in the terms of reference. But for that population, there is about 473. And that is catered for through about 11,400 care packages. And that does not include domiciliary care, so that’s care packages just for those care homes. Nearly all of those care packages are commissioned from the private sector.

The disproportionate adverse impact of Covid-19 on that population is accepted readily by Northern Ireland’s Minister for Health, and I’m sure your Ladyship has seen various iterations of these statistics, but what he said is that:

“The Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on older people: 90% of Covid-19 deaths in the first wave of the pandemic were in people aged over 65. Around half of Covid-19 deaths in Northern Ireland occurred in a care home.”

So that is actually a very stark perspective from which to view the work to be done in this module and the Commissioner’s particular interest and involvement in it.

The Commissioner for Older People in Northern Ireland was established in accordance with the Commissioner for Older People Act (Northern Ireland) of 2011, and the principal aim of that legislation, which is enshrined in section 2, was to safeguard – it’s an important term in this context – and promote the interests of older people in Northern Ireland. And he has mandatory duties in relation to delivering that.

The Commissioner represents the interests of potentially over 600,000 older people and their families in Northern Ireland, and this includes people experiencing a broad spectrum of personal circumstances. So he deals with those who live in their own homes, those who live at home but they are almost entirely reliant on domiciliary care, those who live in supported living or in residential care homes, as well as those who are in hospitals and hospices and those in prison establishments. It’s a very, very broad spectrum of people. And the statistics and the lived experience would suggest that his constituents are and were uniquely vulnerable to experiencing long-term physical or mental health conditions, loneliness, and to feel more significant the physical impacts of being required to shield, quite apart from being very vulnerable to Covid-19 itself, arising out of perhaps their age or co-morbidities.

The Commissioner has sought to deliver particularly through the pandemic for that constituency in accordance with his mandatory duties, and some of those mandatory duties are particularly relevant to the work of not just this module but the work of the Inquiry more broadly than that.

So he is required to keep under review the adequacy and effectiveness of law and practice relating to the interests of older people and the adequacy and effectiveness of services provided for older people by relevant authorities. That’s a very specific area, but he has to keep that under review.

As you’re aware, my Lady, there is a significant difference between that law and practice in Northern Ireland and that of the other jurisdictions. In Northern Ireland the health and social care systems are integrated with both limbs being under the responsibility and control of the Department of Health. That might have brought very considerable benefits to dealing with something like a pandemic, particularly in relation to an older population, and one of the Commissioner’s concerns over the preparation for, the response to, and the management of the pandemic is the extent to which Northern Ireland may actually have squandered the advantages that should have accrued from its integrated system. And that’s an issue, when one is looking at decision-making, that we hope your Ladyship is going to bear in mind.

So, the Commissioner’s publications demonstrate the depth of that knowledge, both his and that of his Office, prior to the pandemic, let alone that gained as policies were being formulated and regulations were being introduced.

So, for example, there is his 2014 report to the minister, “Changing the culture of care in Northern Ireland”, and the 2015 report, “[Preparing] to care? Modernising Adult Social Care in Northern Ireland”. Now, that particular report was based on research that was commissioned from the Queen’s University Belfast, and its objectives were to identify gaps and issues surrounding the current, as it was then, legislative framework including the policy provision for adult social care in Northern Ireland.

And also to compare Northern Ireland with best practice in other jurisdictions including the Republic of Ireland, of which your Ladyship has heard quite a lot so far. And not only just to look at that in an academic sort of way and from the statistical material, but to make recommendations as to whether – well, firstly, of course, and most basically, whether there was any need for any legislative reform at all. And if there was, to suggest what that might be, and how best to change the current framework in Northern Ireland to provide better support for outcomes for older people. And it also involved, interestingly, a stakeholder engagement element with a round table event to discuss outcomes and recommendations.

All of this highlighted the serious concerns over the provision of care to older people pre-pandemic. And that, to a degree, is part of what we understand your Ladyship will be considering in Module 1.

Then, the Commissioner must also promote an awareness of matters relating to the interests of older persons and the need to safeguard those interests. And that, perhaps – the delivery of that mandatory requirement was very much to the fore during the pandemic as it developed.

And fundamental to that role was staying connected with his constituency. And he did that through a wide variety of ways, many of which are set out in our written submissions and I don’t propose to go through them now.

But suffice it to say that from the earliest days of the pandemic, the Commissioner played a direct and significant role in relaying his concerns and those of the older people and their families to the decision-making bodies at the highest level, and regularly communicating updates from them back to the older population on key developments throughout the pandemic.

Now, Mr Lavery has talked about the engagement that you had in Northern Ireland, and the impact on you and others, I understand, in the room in hearing the raw description of the impact of what happened. Yes, it is very challenging to hear that. And in his direct engagement with his constituency, that is what the Commissioner and his office heard day in, day out throughout the pandemic. And that, actually, when one looks for what is the impetus of something, that is what provided the impetus for him to be relaying what he could see, as far as he was concerned, were some of the issues up to those who had the ability to make decisions and formulate policy, and to try and explain to them what was being formulated and how it was intended that would help them.

That’s not an easy thing to do for the length of time the pandemic existed.

And it still happens, because there are still those who are literally burdened by the outcome of what happened, and that he is charged to deal with them and to continue to represent their interests in whatever way it is that the decision-making bodies can seek to, if not address them, certainly try and explain how it happened.

Additionally, the Commissioner took part in weekly meetings of the Older People UK Network during the pandemic. Now, that’s important, because your Ladyship has heard and also recognised the differences between what was happening in the four jurisdictions, and I think Ms Dobbin made reference to the extent to which they were not in lock-step, I think was her expression. One of the issues is to look at: and what difference did it make that they weren’t in lock-step? And, for that matter: what difference might it have made if they were in lock-step?

Well, the extent to which they weren’t in lock-step was something that became very much apparent to the Commissioner as he participated with others in the Older People UK Network, because that provided a forum for representatives of statutory and charitable organisations from all four nations of the UK to share information, co-ordinate public comment, and actually try to keep track of the frequently changing regulations in each region and to see to what extent any of that, if it was different to what was happening in their particular jurisdiction, might be helpful. And that was again something that could be taken back and fed up to the decision-making bodies.

The Commissioner, of course, continues to engage, as I have indicated, with his constituents on a daily basis, and he hopes that makes him particularly well placed to reflect their views to your Ladyship in this part of the Inquiry and also their concerns.

So, coming now to the Commissioner’s concerns and objectives, the Commissioner, in pursuance of his statutory duties, is required to advise the Secretary of State, the Executive Committee of the Assembly, and the relevant authority on matters concerning the interests of older persons, either when he gets a specific request or just when he considers it appropriate to do so. And in service of this duty, the Commissioner took an extremely proactive role during the pandemic. He was publicly calling for universal testing in care homes from as early as 23 April 2020. In fact, his first publication at all went out on throughout the pandemic he actively participated in and made recommendations at frequent pandemic response meetings with the Department of Health, Public Health Agency and the RQIA (the Regulation & Quality Improvement Authority), and on 4 June of 2020 he and his senior team, by invitation, gave evidence to the Committee for Health’s inquiry into Covid-19 and its impact on care homes. He gave that evidence and much of what he said there is to be seen reflected in the recommendations that it made.

Now, the purpose of all of this is not simply to describe, if you like, the impact of what was happening so far as he could see it in his engagement with his

constituency and their families. The purpose was to use

the information he had, together with his own knowledge

and experience, of the weaknesses in the health and

social care sector, on behalf of older people, to seek

to contribute to the formulation of policy, improving

policy, and generally the response of decision-makers to

the pandemic that unfolded. That’s what it was for. It

wasn’t really just to simply describe what was

happening. It was for a purpose. And the purpose of

which is what your Ladyship is considering in this

module. March 2020. That’s how early he was engaged. And 12 If one thinks about some of what he was publishing,

he was looking at: the impact of lockdown on the older

population and the adverse impact on human rights,

influencing public health policies; the lack of

sufficient PPE in care homes; ageist decisions that were

being taken by medical professionals regarding

the entitlement, for example, to ventilators;

discriminatory and ageist practice on Do Not Resuscitate

forms on older patients without consulting the patient

or their families; the government failure to record care

home deaths when following advice from

the Commissioner – that actually was ultimately

implemented at some point; the importance of testing

staff and residents regularly; the vaccination programme roll-out for older people; the disproportionate deaths in care home settings compared to the community, particularly when compared to the other areas of the UK, and your Ladyship has heard some of that earlier this morning; and of course the deaths in care homes caused by the discharge of hospital patients to care homes.

That is what he was reflecting and that is what he was hoping would be considered when policy was being formulated and regulations were being made. We know now that from 19 March 2020 to 14 October 2022 there were 4,892 Covid-related deaths recorded in Northern Ireland. And from what I said before, your Ladyship will know that the majority of them were amongst older people.

But not just that, the Commissioner is also conscious of the many and often undocumented people who continue to suffer the effects of Covid-19, whether it’s because of long Covid or it’s because of delays in surgeries and other healthcare services, and the disproportionate impact of waiting lists for elective surgeries on older people and the exacerbation of that problem due to the pandemic.

The Commissioner in this is not just wanting to know or have a clearer exposition of what happened. In fact, from the engagement with his constituency, he is pretty clear of much of what happened: people died and suffered and their families continue to do so. What he hopes this Inquiry will do is to find out why that happened and how it happened. So, why it all went so wrong and how it went so wrong.

That’s what he hopes will be the outcome, and that is why he is so motivated to participate.

And not just for the answer to that question, but for the answer to that question to be used, as I think your Ladyship has indicated on earlier occasions in relation to other parts of the work, to ensure that, so far as one can do it, that doesn’t happen again. Nobody, I think, feels that there will never be another pandemic. What we don’t want is one of the type in terms of the outcome that happened with Covid-19.

Then the Senior Counsel to the Inquiry in this section, Ms Dobbin has set out the list of enhanced rights, I think she called them, that go with being a core participant.

I want to say, my Lady, that the Commissioner takes that very seriously, the fact that those are rights that accrue to a core participant. But, more specifically, the opportunity that gives, and to use that in the interests, yes, of his constituency but also to assist the Inquiry in its work so far as he can do that. The Commissioner wants to assure your Ladyship and your team that he intends to do all he can as a core participant in this module to assist the Inquiry from his expertise, experience and network. And to that end he is prepared to meet the Inquiry team as early as possible and engage with them in whatever way they consider productive.

And I have to say, and this I would like to pass on, on behalf of Ms Miller and myself, my thanks to the Inquiry team, because actually that engagement has already started. We already met them. Almost the first thing what we did when we arrived here was to meet them and to have what we thought to be a very productive introduction. And we’re very grateful for that and we certainly hope that that kind of interaction can continue.

So then finally, just on why the Commissioner is being involved: he welcomes, my Lady, your desire to progress as expeditiously as possible without compromising on receiving the important material and evidence that will inform your recommendations. He noted what was said in the transcript for Module 1. That actually is his aim.

The Commissioner also notes your reference to delivering the Inquiry’s ambitious timetable will require the full co-operation of core participants and others, and your Ladyship repeated that today, and he confirms that he will do all that he can within his remit to further precisely that. And that includes welcoming the opportunity to provide relevant documents and evidence in ways that can be developed more with your team.

I just want to say some matters about the scope of the module, what I might call the discovery issue, if you like, which are the Rule 9 requests and disclosure, and experts, if I may. I hope I’m not trespassing too much on the time.

Lady Hallett: If you could focus on the – I have read your written submissions.

Ms Anyadike-Danes: I’m very grateful.

So, since you have, then one of the areas that the Commissioner really wants to work with is really something that Mr Lavery spoke about, which is care homes. Your Ladyship has indicated that you will look at that.

There are some very unique elements of what happened in care homes as a result of the pandemic. If one sees, for example, the impact of lockdown and the lack of physical inspection or attendance of families that was possible during the pandemic. The Commissioner is very concerned that in the absence of that, if you like, the outside world lost its eyes and ears on what was happening in care homes. And he is very much aware of that and aware that how issues to do with isolation and reduction of – within the care homes – interpersonal contact, all of that was a matter that was managed individually by care homes in a way that didn’t necessarily allow others to be appreciative of how that was happening and how that might have been improved.

Lady Hallett: Can I just interrupt there?

Ms Anyadike-Danes: Yes.

Lady Hallett: Just to make things clear, there will be a module that focuses on the care sector.

Ms Anyadike-Danes: Yes.

Lady Hallett: This module is focusing on key decision-making and whether or not the key decision-makers took into account the impact on various groups, like people in the care home, the elderly, children and the like. So when it comes to the really detailed kind of aspects you’re talking about, that is more likely to be dealt with in the care home sector; its only subject matter will be the care sector.

Ms Anyadike-Danes: Yes, well, I’m very grateful for that, my Lady, and I did understand, certainly even from what the Senior Counsel to the Inquiry on the Welsh module said yesterday, that there was going to be an element on the care sector. And that brings me to another area that the Commissioner has an interest in, and it may be that we can take this forward in discussion with your team, which is: when one looks at the health sector, which is Module 3, as we understand it, and the care sector at some module at some stage perhaps later on, for Northern Ireland what was happening – and by that, for the purposes of this, I mean the decision-making of what was happening and the way they took the experiences of what was being described, and the concerns about it, back up the line, if I can put it that way, to feature in policy and decision-making.

For Northern Ireland, actually, the care home straddles both those. So it’s not really possible effectively to look at that decision-making and policy making discretely in healthcare or in social care, because of the – the way the integrated system works, it’s – one would not get a proper picture of the hows and the whys in relation to decision-making without being able to look at how those – both those sectors came together in the care home sector.

So I will say no more about that, because I’m sure that is something that can be developed with your team as to how we don’t necessarily end up into over – into unnecessary duplication, but also don’t miss anything that’s relevant for decision-making.

So, if I can then just deal very, very quickly with the Rule 9 requests and the disclosure.

By and large, much of – since your Ladyship has been good enough to read the submission – what has been said there we can take forward. All that we would want to do is to ensure that there is sufficient information being provided so that, from the Commissioner’s expertise, he is able to assist in either the identification of further recipients of Rule 9 requests or, for that matter, be able to help as to where there might be some gaps in the material being provided to you.

He has a real interest in ensuring that there aren’t gaps, as I’m sure your Ladyship does also. So that’s just a matter of the provision of information ahead of time so that he can meaningfully assist with that.

There is another matter, but it’s reflected in our written statement, and that is because – and I don’t believe that it’s only an overlap likely between Module 3 and any social care module, but within the Module 2 and Module 2C there may well be matters where it would assist if the core participants could have sight of some of what was happening and had been provided in other modules. I’m sure there’s a system that can be devised that will allow that without compromising anything of significance. Everybody will obviously have provided their undertakings, and so that obviously gives comfort to the Inquiry. And one doesn’t want to duplicate the Inquiry’s work by getting them to sort of involve a whole load of people who aren’t directly relevant to the module in hand. But there may well be some purposeful dissemination that could happen as between material that comes, for example, in Module 2 and material that is going to arise in Module 2C.

On the – finally, then – instruction of expert witnesses, I listened with interest to what Mr Lavery was saying about how he wondered whether your Ladyship would consider a panel of experts. I must say I’d rather got the impression from the note that your senior counsel provided to us all that your Ladyship was considering effectively a panel in the sense of a resource panel, as opposed to a decision-making panel, and that, if I may respectfully say so, we think is a very good idea.

What actually was set out there in terms of the areas that have already been identified, I think there were four of them, (a) through to (d), I don’t think there’s anything there immediately that the Commissioner would necessarily think there is a gap. It may well be that you can see discrete elements as you work through become – of very particular specialisms, and I think he understands that there will be an opportunity to respond, and also if there are particular identities of experts – we note that that’s already happened for one core participant in Module 1 – and if that becomes a helpful thing to do, then we will be engaging on that.

But there is just one element, when I – and I noted it when I was looking through – at the areas for expertise. It’s in relation to (b) where it describes the systems for measuring and estimating infections and deaths and the registration of deaths and overall figures for infection and death. It’s more to do with, really, the deaths and the registration of deaths. It may well be that in dealing with the scope of this area – and it’s always very difficult when you’re trying to set out a broad canvas, because the more you give individual bits, somebody thinks of their little bit that wasn’t added on clearly is being left off. And we understand that these parts that are being described are indicative only and that your Ladyship is trying to be inclusive rather than exclusive. But in terms of the deaths, there are issues to do with death certification in care homes and the guidance that was given to coroners as to the occasions when there ought to be an inquest into those sorts of deaths.

Now, that is guidance, and that came from policy, and it may be that – I don’t believe that your Ladyship is necessarily excluding it, but there may be issues like that, that the Commissioner sees, and we can engage with your team about that, and that might be helpful generally.

So that’s really all I want to say about what came through from the note. I would just like to conclude with this: to reassure your Ladyship and your team that working with this Inquiry is an absolute priority for the Commissioner, and he hopes there is a shared objective, which – I think he has gleaned that hope from all that’s been said so far, to find out what happened, learn the lessons for the future, and move as quickly as is reasonable and feasible to the issuing of effective recommendations. Because that’s the tool that he hopes can be used for the future.

Thank you, my Lady.

Lady Hallett: Thank you very much indeed. I’m very grateful.

I can certainly confirm we share the same objectives, and I do welcome the Commissioner’s interest. He’s obviously played a very significant role representing a very important constituency, and I’m very grateful for his offers of help and indeed those that you have offered.

So thank you very much indeed.

Ms Anyadike-Danes: Thank you, my Lady.

Lady Hallett: Mr Jacobs.

Submissions on Behalf of the Trades Union Congress by Mr Jacobs

Lady Hallett: Mr Jacobs.

Mr Jacobs: Thank you, my Lady.

I don’t know if you want me to work with a particular breaking point in mind.

Lady Hallett: No, I’d like to complete it, please, because I really have to finish by a certain time.

Mr Jacobs: I’ll press on.

My Lady, I appear on behalf of the Trades Union Congress, the TUC. We have been designated as a core participant in Modules 1 and also the four parts of Module 2.

The TUC brings together 5.5 million working people who make up its 48 member unions from all parts of the UK.

The TUC is also working in partnership with the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, or the ICTU. The ICTU is the single umbrella organisation for trade unions on the island of Ireland. It’s required, through its mission statement, to strive to achieve economic developments, social cohesion and justice by upholding the values of solidarity, fairness and equality.

The Northern Ireland Committee, the NIC, of the ICTU, is the representative body for 34 trade unions, with over 200,000 members across Northern Ireland. In membership terms, it is the largest civil society organisation in Northern Ireland.

My Lady, for the purposes of these submissions I will generally refer to the NIC, the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

My Lady, across the UK, thousands of people of working age died in the pandemic, many of whom were key workers in high risk workplaces in a range of sectors. As the TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady put it in a joint statement this year on Workers’ Memorial Day:

“We’ll forever be in the debt of the workers who kept the country going during the pandemic - nursers, carers, bus drivers, factory workers and so many more.

“Far too many were exposed to the virus at work - and lost their lives as a consequence. Now the government owes it to them, and to their families, to make sure that the public inquiry investigates what should have been done to keep everyone safe at work.”

With that in mind, my Lady, Ms Dobbin this morning, in her very helpful opening statement, referred to the common purpose shared by this Inquiry, its core participants, and those who will give evidence, and that is a common purpose absolutely shared and supported by the TUC.

My Lady, I will focus my submissions for the purposes of this hearing on issues of scope.

Firstly, the issue of a lack of a functioning Executive for the three years leading to January 2020, we are glad to see it in the provisional scope documents and also for it to receive some focus in Ms Dobbin’s opening this morning. All I say is this. On its face, the issue has potential relevance to a number of modules: Module 1 on preparedness, a lack of an executive must be relevant to the preparedness of a government to respond to something as difficult as a pandemic; to Module 2, all the more so in circumstances that the UK Government had particular additional obligations as there was no functioning Executive; but also of course, and perhaps primarily, this module.

There is a risk of important issues falling between modules, and I addressed you yesterday in Modules 2A and 2B on core participants being able to engage with the Inquiry at an early stage with what issues the Inquiry is actually enquiring into and in what modules.

It can shed some light on what it’s looking at, either through disclosure of Rule 9 requests or an early and developing list of issues, and that’s equally important in this module. Beyond that, I simply refer my Lady to submissions I made yesterday on those points.

The short point, really, is that we don’t want to be complaining after the event that an important issue has not been investigated and has fallen between modules. We want to have the opportunity to point it out constructively and in advance.

My Lady, in our written submissions in relation to scope, we’ve pointed to the issue of the island of Ireland; as Mr Lavery refers to it, the single epidemiological unit. All I say on that is that we agree entirely with what was said by Mr Lavery, and again, grateful to see it have some focus in Ms Dobbin’s submissions.

More significantly, my Lady, evidence of impact and the relevance of evidence of impact in Module 2C. Although later modules are going to focus on particular areas, I addressed you yesterday on the importance of having enough evidence of impact to set the central political decision-making in context. These political decisions weren’t made in the abstract; they were decisions with real world perceptible and observable impacts which should have fed back into decision-making.

I think, my Lady, it’s really a similar point to that made just a few moments ago by Ms Anyadike-Danes, which is how experiences fed back up the line and into political decision-making.

One important issue, we say, is that the use and effectiveness of non-pharmaceutical interventions, NPIs, played out in significant part in workplaces across the UK. Community transmission and significant loss of life occurred in a number of sectors. In Northern Ireland, there were particularly significant difficulties in relation to food production sites.

My Lady, Ms Dobbin spoke of the Inquiry seeking an inclusive approach in which the experiences of disadvantaged groups are seen and heard, and we say to that that that includes workers such as those on food production sites which were in low paid but very high risk jobs, and perhaps have far less sort of priority or prominence in the public consciousness.

So, for example, my Lady, in March 2020 there was a mass walkout of up to 1,000 workers at Moy Park in Portadown over concerns of a failure to provide basic health and safety protections to the workforce, and there were similar walkouts in ABP Meats in Lurgan.

At the time the Unite regional officer, Sean McKeever, explained that:

“Food and retail workers are now front line workers in the battle against the Covid-19 virus but are at risk of being sacrificed by our politicians. The Northern Ireland Executive’s shameful failure to bring forward any meaningful enforcement mechanisms whatsoever cannot be allowed to continue. The Health and Safety Executive is chronically under-resourced and under-staffed to deal with the scale of this challenge – they are no longer conducting inspections at workplaces – leaving workers to fend for themselves.”

So Unite advocated for the Northern Ireland Executive to require Covid testing for workers in the poultry and meat packing sector. The high risk nature of the sector had been recognised, but there was nonetheless a failure to roll out any comprehensive programme of testing for those working in it.

So we say, my Lady, in examining in this module the development of the approach to NPIs, non-pharmaceutical interventions, in light of the understanding of their impact on transmission, there must be at least some evidence as to impact.

Ultimately, my Lady, the barometer which you should have in mind is not how government decisions looked on paper, but how they played out in practice.

The NIC also made repeated requests to meet bilaterally with the First and deputy First Ministers of the Northern Ireland Executive. The joint office of the First and deputy First Minister failed or declined to meet with the NIC, which the NIC itself regards as a regrettable and significant failure of leadership.

That lack of engagement is itself, we say, an important issue for this module. Ms Dobbin described looking at how those who govern in Northern Ireland came together to make decisions for all of the community. We say that’s not just coming together within the government itself, but also coming together with important parts of civil society and groups such as the NIC.

My Lady, just standing back for a moment, we obviously make that submission in the context of the TUC’s and the NIC’s particular focus, but I say that in fact just listening to the submissions this morning, one can see that some evidence of impact is important Ms Anyadike-Danes was making submissions about the experiences of those in care homes, and it would just not be possible, we say, to look at that sort of issue divorced from any evidence at all as to how government decisions were playing out in practice and how experiences fed back up the line, as Ms Anyadike-Danes put it.

My Lady, in relation to Rule 9 requests, the Inquiry is invited to direct a request to the NIC, who we say can give relevant and important evidence on the use and effectiveness of NPIs in workplaces. The Inquiry is also invited to direct a Rule 9 request to the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Industry. I don’t refer to the industry generally in an amorphous sense, but the organisation with that title.

That organisation was involved in disseminating in effect government guidance and decisions as to NPIs. So, for example, on 27 March 2020 it issued the Good Manufacturing Practice Covid-19, which was described as taking the advice from Public Health England and practical experiences from local food manufacturers, in effect to give guidance to help food production lines continue and feed the nation during the pandemic.

My Lady, what does the evidence of an organisation such as the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Industry have anything to do with government decision-making? Well, entirely hypothetically, if that body was to say that it had adequate engagement from the Northern Ireland Executive, that it had clear decisions that it could implement, that it had clear public health messaging, that may assist you. And of course, equally, if it says something very different, that it found decision-making confused, that it found it was not able to translate public health messaging into the workplace, that too is going to be important, we say, to considering matters which fall squarely within Module 2C.

The final point I make, and of course, my Lady, perhaps in the interests of time, I stand by of course what is said in my written submissions without addressing everything, but very briefly, we have already invited in other modules for the Inquiry to hold some, what we have described as strand-tying closing submissions after the conclusion of Modules 2A, 2B and 2C in order to take a sort of more holistic view of the lessons learned across the modules, and we simply say that it can’t be too early to think proactively about how the modular approach, which has a lot to commend it, is ultimately going to form a coherent whole.

My Lady, unless I can assist further.

Lady Hallett: No, thank you very much indeed, Mr Jacobs, I’m very grateful to you.

Ms Dobbin, do you have any closing remarks?

Response Statement by Lead Counsel to the Inquiry for Module 2C

Ms Dobbin: Very few, my Lady.

My Lady, once again I hope that brevity will not be regarded as discourteous, but my learned friends have made important points and those are matters that I know you will want to consider with care. So there were just a couple of things.

Mr Lavery raised the issue of pen portraits. To anyone who hasn’t followed the other hearings, they may not realise that that issue has been discussed and ventilated previously as well, and that it’s something you have considered carefully and also dealt with in your ruling in response to the hearing that took place in Module 1, and that the real issue again goes back to the scale of the deaths that occurred and the real difficulty that that presents in terms of pen portrait evidence, and how it would ever be possible to pick, for example, between persons whose portraits would be conveyed at a hearing.

I just thought it was important to make sure people understood that that has been considered at some length, and that, as you’ve already said, the issue of how to commemorate appropriately and respectfully is something that you continue to keep under consideration.

As regards Mr Lavery’s other point about the potential of your sitting with a panel, as distinct from experts who might advise as a panel, my Lady, as you’ve pointed out, whether or not an inquiry chair should ever sit with a panel is properly a matter, in this Inquiry, for the Prime Minister as the sponsoring minister. That would be a matter for him.

Some short additional points. This is one UK Inquiry, and Module 2C is an integral part of Module 2 as well, and there’s an issue of law as to whether part of an Inquiry could ever sit with a panel, and not other parts of the Inquiry. And that’s because section 3 of the Inquiries Act expressly refers to an Inquiry being undertaken by a Chair alone or with other members, so it only seems to foresee the whole of an Inquiry being undertaken by panelists.

My Lady, I thought it was also important to say that, of course, because in A, B and C you have appointed a counsel team for each, and they are separate modules, that also facilitates a deeper understanding of how the structures within which those devolved nations work as well and, in the case of Northern Ireland, how those Northern Irish structures and institutions interacted with counterparts in the Republic of Ireland as well.

My Lady, as regards the submissions made by Ms Anyadike-Danes, I think the concern of the Commissioner shines through about the issues that he encountered as the pandemic unfolded and the efforts that he made to communicate those. But it is right to point out, as you indeed have done, and again for the benefit of the public, that the focus of Module 2A, B and C is on the key decisions and the key decision-making process by those at the highest level of government, and that the impact of those decisions will then be looked at as the Inquiry develops.

Obviously that’s, and I say this again, to give comfort that those granular issues about how decisions played out in other sectors will be afforded more detailed consideration as the Inquiry develops.

Is there anything else that I can assist you with?

Lady Hallett: No, I’m extremely grateful to you as well, Ms Dobbin, thank you very much indeed.

Thank you, everybody. That completes this morning’s hearing. I’m grateful to those who have attended in person, and to those who have made submissions. And, again – I don’t know how many times I have expressed my gratitude this week, but I’ll do it one last time –