COVID inquiry 'needs to be forward-looking and fast'

The terms of reference for the inquiry are to be set shortly, along with strict time limits
Jack Quann
Jack Quann

18.05 4 Jan 2024

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COVID inquiry 'needs to be for...

COVID inquiry 'needs to be forward-looking and fast'

Jack Quann
Jack Quann

18.05 4 Jan 2024

Share this article

Any COVID-19 inquiry should be forward-looking, fast and held in public, an infectious disease expert has said.

The terms of reference for the inquiry are to be set shortly, along with strict time limits.

It is also to be revealed whether it will be a public or private inquiry.


Professor Sam McConkey told The Hard Shoulder the inquiry needs to be forward-looking.

"I'd like to see an inquiry that points us to the future, that in the future we've more robust and resilient systems," he said.

"Many folk will see with great sadness the nursing home deaths at the early part of COVID - were there enough extra staff, do all of our organisations have enough staff to cope with maybe 10% or 20% of people off sick?

"Many of us don't have those redundancies built into our important systems.

"I'd like to see it forward-focused, looking at resilience, looking at robustness."

'Broader questions'

Prof McConkey said this robustness must go beyond health.

"Our arch nemesis might be a virus on the computer system that brings down our bank payments system.

"I would say that we need, as a nation, to look at resilience of a wide area of water, food, banking, energy, fibre optic cables and cyber security.

"This particular inquiry won't necessarily do all that, but I think that's the sort of questions I'd like to be living in a country that can answer those sort of broader questions".

'It's not a court'

Prof McConkey said there are arguments for and against holding the inquiry in public.

"If it becomes sort of accusatory, almost like a court where people who are giving evidence feel that they're guilty... then it can become very defensive.

"[The inquiry] can become very defensive and doesn't result in the forward-looking answers to how to make a better Ireland in the next five or 10 years.

"It's not a court, it's an inquiry to find out what happened.

"If you have an open tribunal it can be slow, expensive and lots of cross-examination - so then you end up going on for years.

"We've had those sort of tribunals in Ireland in the past, not always with the biggest impact after several years of talking.

"So, I think a quicker, shorter one is better.

"Having said that, of course, the openness of transparency brings a clarifying and healthy light to everything.

"I'd prefer to see it open; but if it's possible to have one that's quick and not accusatory as well, I think that would be helpful," he added.

Britain has held a similar COVID inquiry which saw the country's former Prime Minister Boris Johnson appear before it.

Listen back here:

Main image: The Molly Malone statue in Dublin city with a facemask added during a coronavirus lockdown in November 2020.  Image: Mark Henderson / Alamy

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COVID-19 Inquiry COVID Inquiry Resilience Sam McConkey Terms Of Reference The Hard Shoulder Time Limits

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