Ireland’s Covid inquiry to adopt ‘no-blame’ approach and will not be ‘UK-style’

Government indicates its intention to provide a factual account of pandemic and identify lessons learned from it

Ireland’s review of the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic is to have a “no-blame” approach and will “not be a UK-style” inquiry, Opposition politicians have been told.

The Government indicated it will not be a statutory inquiry during a briefing on Thursday and the intention is to provide a factual account and identify lessons learned.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly are understood to have told the Opposition that there will be recommendations made on guiding future threats.

Under the proposals, there would be a “particular focus” on nursing homes, though the evaluation is not intended to cover the “impacts in specific settings or institutions”.


It will include a nursing home module and will be non-statutory and expert led, and an independent pandemic evaluation panel.

The review panel will report directly to the Taoiseach with scope for interim reports on urgent matters.

The Government is seeking feedback on the model from the Opposition over the next three weeks.

Speaking after the meeting, Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane welcomed the briefing but said it should have taken place months ago – and argued that groups most impacted by the pandemic should have been included in drafting the terms of reference at an earlier stage.

He said he was “open minded” on the non-statutory “blame-free” nature of the inquiry, saying: “I don’t think anyone wants an inquiry where it goes on for years and years and can’t get the facts we want.”

He said, however, the inquiry “has to have the ability to establish wrongdoing, failures, and there has to be accountability built in”. He said it was important “for failings and mistakes to be recognised and reported on”. He said it was vital that the families of those who died in nursing homes be given a platform for their testimony.

Social Democrats health spokeswoman Róisín Shortall said it was a “reasonable first draft”. She said she had suggested the narrow scope of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) be considered as it excluded adequate representation for education, business and mental health.

“I have also suggested a separate module on children as arguably the greatest long-term impacts have been on children, particularly children in disadvantaged communities and children with special needs,” she said.

The Irish Times understands the same approach will not be taken here as was in the UK under the proposed terms of what is being called the Independent Pandemic Evaluation Panel.

A draft template for the terms of reference has been drawn up.

According to the document, the objectives of the review are “to provide a factual account of the overall strategy for, and handling of, Covid-19 in Ireland, identify lessons learned, and make recommendations to guide future decision-making”.

The proposed principles of the evaluation are that it should be “independent, multidisciplinary, objective and fair, and should involve a ‘no-blame’ approach”.

In terms of its scope, the review is to provide a factual account that looks at structures and processes; the whole of Government response to the pandemic; the advice to Government; the different phases/waves of the pandemic; the legislative framework; communications and collaboration across the pollical spectrum and society more generally; and EU or international aspects.

The panel should “identify lessons, taking account of the overall performance of the health system and the impacts of Covid-19 and the measures taken in response to it on individuals, families, communities, society and the economy”.

There should be a particular focus on long-term residential care facilities for older people, taking account of the previous report of the Expert Panel on Nursing Homes.

The document says the panel “should make recommendations on guiding principles and processes which can strengthen decision-making”.

It should “assist in weighting trade-offs between competing policy priorities and challenges, and assist in safeguarding civil liberties and democratic processes at times of extreme threats”.

The evaluation is “not intended to cover clinical questions, impacts in specific settings or institutions, the specific epidemiology of the virus, and vaccine efficacy/adverse outcomes”.

The review will include analysis of documents and additional evidence-gathering through seeking submissions and both public and private engagements and hearings.

Under the proposals, the panel will have a chairperson and four other members “drawn from a range of backgrounds/expertise”.

The document indicates the panel will be expected to submit a final report to the Taoiseach at some point in 2025.

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Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times