We Need to Know What Happened and Why

The Public Accounts Committee (remember them?) has recommended that a public inquiry should be held into the entirety of the Quayle administration’s handling of the Covid pandemic.

This comes as the UK’s first parliamentary report into the gov’s response to Covid called it one of the country’s worst ever public health failures. The word ’failure’ appears 17 times in 150 pages of analysis, evidence and recommendations.

Chaired by Speaker Juan Watterson, the committee included Lib Vannin leader Lawrie Hooper, Douglas East MHK Clare Barber, Onchan MHK Julie Edge, Middle MHK Jane Poole-Wilson (who at the time was an MLC) and now retired Douglas East MHK Christ Robertshaw. Mr Robertshaw has said this inquiry should be lead by an off-island judge.

The work of PAC became some of the most forthright challenges to gov’s handling of the pandemic, particularly since January this year. 

It was PAC which investigated the Steam Packet debacle. The committee also heard the evidence of Dr Rachel Glover, which included some of the most hard hitting criticisms of the gov’s handling of the pandemic. And they also famously heard from Dr Ranson, the island’s top doc, who tried to push for lockdown measures to be brought in earlier than the gov did. 

In the committee’s annual report, the recommendations also calls on Tynwald to waive privilege in relation to any evidence relating to the pandemic that it holds so that it may be released to an inquiry if requested.

The PAC report, which will be brought before Tynwald by Speaker Juan Watterson, calls for a public inquiry that would include everything the gov did in response to the pandemic beginning in December 2019 when the first cases were reported in China, through to the end of the Quayle administration.

In the report, PAC praised the ability for Tynwald, including committees, to keep working throughout the pandemic. 

The report reads: ‘The work in the Isle of Man has been held up as a positive example of good parliamentary practise when many other parliaments, often larger than ours were paralysed and unable to function. However, the Covid story did not end at the conclusion of the last lockdown. The impact on public finances, health and our resilience as an Island will be themes that echo for a long time to come. We believe that a public inquiry is required to review the handling of the pandemic to ensure lessons are identified and instilled into best practise.

‘For our part, we have attempted to capture some important evidence at the end of the administration. In doing so we recognise that there is so much more that has the potential to be looked at in detail, from preparedness, testing and genomics, borders, communications, vaccination and governance and decision- making processes. Sadly, due to a lack of time, we must leave reporting on these matters to our successors or a public inquiry.’

Looking back, as well as forward, the committee’s report says that the inquiry needs to look at the work of Dr Glover. It has also said that the evidence of Dr Ranson and the rebuttal by the DHSC, because of the lack of time it had before the election, needs to be a matter ‘for serious consideration by our successors’.

As it is listed on the business register, the report, along with its recommendations, should be before Tynwald in November when members will be asked to vote for or against a public inquiry.

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