Mark Drakeford urged to withdraw ‘insulting’ Covid group comments
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What did First Minister Mark Drakeford say that upset families who lost loved ones during the pandemic?

By David Deans

BBC Wales political reporter

There are calls for the first minister to withdraw remarks claiming a group of families bereaved by Covid had moved on from calling for a Wales-specific inquiry.

Members of the Covid Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru group said the claim was “insulting” and “not true”.

A letter from Plaid Cymru called on Mark Drakeford to reflect on his words “as a sign of respect” for the group.

The Welsh government said it would respond in due course.

Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies also wrote to the first minister, asking him to “either clarify the basis on which your comments were made, or correct the record”.

Facing questions from Mr Davies in his weekly question time on Tuesday, the Welsh Labour leader said that he believed from meetings “I’ve had with them… that, unlike the leader of the opposition, they are moving on from continuing to ask for something which is not going to happen”.

‘The world has moved on’

He added: “The leader of the opposition can, of course, go on making his case for as long and as loudly as he likes. In the meantime, the world has moved on.”

In response Mr Davies said the remarks were insensitive.

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In 2021 Anna-Louise Marsh-Rees said she had to get answers for her dad and other families in Wales

Faced with criticism a Welsh government source said his reference was to the group’s comment that members had “shifted their focus”.

Covid Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru has about 500 members and met Mr Drakeford a number of times during the pandemic, repeatedly calling for a specific Welsh inquiry.

The Welsh government has rejected those calls and has instead backed a UK-wide inquiry, saying it would give a better understanding of how decisions were taken between the different governments of the United Kingdom.

On Tuesday the bereaved families group was told it would be considered a “core-participant” in the UK inquiry.

Welcoming the decision, Mr Drakeford told the Senedd that he had written to the group “earlier this year supporting their application” for the status.

On Radio Wales on Tuesday evening group member Sam Smith-Higgin said Mr Drakeford had “lied saying he had written a letter supporting us for core participant status –he hasn’t”.

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Sam Smith-Higgins lost her father to Covid after he was admitted to hospital for cancer

The group posted a copy of a letter, which they said was from Mr Drakeford in August, which while wishing them success made an argument as to why the Welsh government could not ask the inquiry for the group to be made a core participant.

The letter said the government wished “to avoid any suggestion that we are seeking to influence who the other core participants should be, particularly in circumstances where we are likely to be one of the key participants scrutinised”.

“However, I do want to wish you all success in your own efforts to secure core participant status.”

In his letter asking Mr Drakeford to withdraw the comments, Plaid Cymru’s Rhun ap Iorwerth said: “You also indicated that you supported the campaign’s request to obtain core participant status in relation to the UK investigation.

“The campaigners have understood this to mean that you stated you wrote to the UK Covid inquiry to give your support to the campaign’s application.

“Perhaps you meant to refer to the fact that you had told the campaigners themselves, but tonight the campaigners have noted your own words that you felt you could not officially support the application.

“These campaigners have done an outstanding job gathering evidence in the hope of getting to the truth in relation to the response to the pandemic, and as a sign of respect for them, I would like you to reflect on what you said today.”