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Baroness Arlene Foster Defends Pandemic Leadership at COVID Inquiry, Rejects Claims of ‘Sleepwalking’ into Crisis



Arlene Foster has defended her management during the pandemic, asserting that it is 'offensive' to claim that Northern Ireland was unprepared for COVID. While testifying at the official COVID inquiry, the former first minister described the decision-making processes within the Northern Ireland executive at the onset of the pandemic.

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Wednesday, May 15, 2024, 3:

Former Northern Ireland First Minister Baroness Arlene Foster has stood by her management of the region throughout the COVID-19 crisis.

During her testimony at the COVID inquiry in Belfast, she stated that it was "offensive" to claim that Northern Ireland was unprepared and unaware as the pandemic unfolded.

During a series of occasionally strained interactions, the inquiry's attorney Clair Dobbin KC posed questions to Baroness Foster.

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Ms. Dobbin accused the peer of repeatedly trying to "deflect," an allegation that Baroness Foster denied.

The ex-chief stated that the pandemic represented the "toughest" phase of her professional life.

Attention centered on the examination by Baroness Foster of the pandemic preparedness and strategies of the Northern Ireland executive in early 2020.

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The ex-premier informed the panel that her position differed from that of other devolved government heads because of the unique structure of the executive.

She indicated that the first minister failed to examine the departments and ministers equally, and a significant portion of the accountability for the pandemic lay with the national Department of Health.

Baroness Foster pointed out that the Stormont executive was reinstated in January 2020 after a three-year halt in political activity, suggesting there was an accumulation of matters needing attention. She also suggested that civil servants could have been unaccustomed to collaborating with politicians due to the hiatus.

When Ms. Dobbin inquired if she acknowledged her accountability for the events in Northern Ireland throughout the pandemic, Baroness Foster affirmed, "Yes, of course I accept responsibility. I was the first minister at the time."

In her testimony, Baroness Foster repeatedly emphasized that she did not ask for any written reports from the health minister, receiving only oral briefings.

Discover further: Understanding the COVID Inquiry's objectives. Wales’s First Minister expresses calmness despite accusations of deceiving the Inquiry.

She stated that requesting such documents was beyond her authority.

In response to a question about whether Northern Ireland was unprepared and unaware of the escalating pandemic in early 2020, the DUP politician stated that it was "offensive" to make such a suggestion.

She mentioned that in mid-March, government officials were informed that the peak of the initial COVID wave was expected to occur in about 14 weeks, leading to the implementation of the first lockdown later in the month.

Baroness Foster was questioned about incidents from November 2020, during which the DUP employed a cross-community veto to prevent the prolongation of certain measures in the area.

At the time, other groups, including Sinn Fein who were coalition partners with the DUP, criticized this action.

Stay informed with the most recent updates from the UK and across the globe by tuning into Sky News.

Baroness Foster described the relationships at that stage of the pandemic as "very poor." She attributed this, in part, to Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill attending the funeral of ex-IRA member Bobby Storey in June.

Ms. O'Neill, currently serving as first minister, expressed regret for attending the event during her testimony at the inquiry.

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