Covid Inquiry Uncovers Concealment of Key Facts by Civil Servants

UK Covid-19 Inquiry in Belfast reveals civil servants who concealed information during the pandemic response are more likely to be promoted than disciplined. The inquiry uncovers concerns about transparency and accountability, including missing notes and wiped devices, in Northern Ireland's handling of the crisis.

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Covid Inquiry Uncovers Concealment of Key Facts by Civil Servants

Covid Inquiry Uncovers Concealment of Key Facts by Civil Servants

The UK Covid-19Inquiryin Belfast has revealed that civil servants who concealed crucial information during the pandemic response are more likely to be promoted than disciplined. The inquiry, currently investigating Northern Ireland's handling of the crisis, has uncovered concerns about transparency and accountability within the civil service.

Why this matters: The lack of transparency and accountability within the civil service during the pandemic response raises questions about the government's ability to respond effectively to crises. If left unchecked, this culture of concealment can lead to further erosion of public trust and undermine the government's credibility.

Lead counsel for the inquiry, Clair Dobbin KC, disclosed that handwritten notes from a key meeting of the Stormont Executive on July 2, 2020, were initially reported as missing but later found. The meeting, which followed the controversial funeral of republican Bobby Storey attended by Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill and other Sinn Féin ministers, is of significant interest to the inquiry. Dobbin expressed concern about the lack of disclosure and late provision of information, stating, "It suffices to say that despite those notes having been found and despite the sheer number of requests having been made, despite the fact that the TEO in fact told the inquiry that those notes weren't held, and despite the very specific questions that the inquiry asked about the precise circumstances in which notes like this could go missing, they weren't provided until after the opening had been given."

Jayne Brady, the current head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS), has ordered an investigation into the matter. Brady acknowledged a disconnect between staff and the level of information required for disclosure, telling the inquiry, "I can see how the pattern of events compounds to draw those characteristics." She expressed concern about the fullness of disclosure and the rationale behind the late provision of information.

The inquiry also heard that devices assigned to ministers, including former First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill, were wiped, resulting in data loss. Brady said she had issued communications to staff about the importance of retaining records for the inquiry and had begun an investigation into the extent of the data loss.

Baroness Hallett, the inquiry chairwoman, expressed her dissatisfaction with the situation, stating,"It's not a very happy picture. "She will consider pursuing the matter of themissing notesfurther. The inquiry has received vast amounts of information from civil servants and some ministers but has raised concerns over the lack of transparency and the deletion of data from ministers' devices.

The Covid-19 Inquiry in Belfast continues to uncover troubling instances of concealment and lack of transparency within the Northern Ireland Civil Service during the pandemic response. As the investigation proceeds, it remains to be seen what further revelations may emerge and how they will impact public trust in the government's handling of the crisis.

Key Takeaways

  • UK Covid-19 Inquiry finds civil servants who concealed info during pandemic response are more likely to be promoted than disciplined.
  • Handwritten notes from a key Stormont Executive meeting were initially reported missing, then found, raising concerns about transparency.
  • Devices assigned to ministers, including Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill, were wiped, resulting in data loss.
  • Civil servants failed to disclose crucial information, and late provision of info raises questions about accountability.
  • Inquiry chairwoman Baroness Hallett expresses dissatisfaction, considering further action on missing notes and data deletion.