Scrutiny seems to be the hardest word
“If you seek the responsibility, you have a duty not to shy away from it” - Rhun ap Iorwerth MS
This article was published in Wales Online, Friday 7 July 2023
Scrutiny seems to be the hardest word
Rhun ap Iorwerth MS, Leader of Plaid Cymru, writes about how, if you seek the responsibility, you have a duty not to shy away from it. This has been no more apparent than with the UK Covid Inquiry this week.
Something rather significant happened this week and it was as disappointing as it was enlightening.
A year since Covid restrictions were lifted in Wales, our most senior Welsh Government Ministers and current and former health officials appeared before the public inquiry set up to ‘examine the UK’s response to and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and learn lessons for the future’.
It’s welcome that we are finally shedding at least some light on critical questions which have thus far largely remained unanswered.
However what’s rather remarkable is that the evidence was heard not in Wales, but in London, and before an inquiry set up by another Government - a government whose approach to the pandemic was at the very least suspect, and which has now lost all legitimacy to govern.
Meanwhile in Scotland, the judge-led inquiry investigating the devolved strategic response to the pandemic is beginning its work this month.
In Wales, it seems that scrutiny really is the hardest word.
The absence of a Welsh Covid inquiry speaks to a wider culture permeating through our government’s ranks, its roots deepening with every year of a Labour Welsh Government.
Wales Online’s Will Hayward made the case for a Welsh Covid inquiry echoing the impassioned pleas of bereaved families. Much has been written about this week’s evidence, particularly the admission by Vaughan Gething, the former Health Minister and much touted successor to Mark Drakeford, that he hadn’t even read the key documents highlighting his own government’s lack of pandemic preparedness.
However, fleeting appearances by Wales’ key players pre- and post-Covid at a UK inquiry will only scratch the surface of what happened in the run-up and response to the Covid outbreak. That means the process of learning lessons will fall significantly short of what our nation should expect.
The principle of a full Welsh inquiry goes far beyond any sense of adversarial party politics, it’s about what’s right.
The recent decision to establish a Special Purpose Committee in the Senedd to look at any gaps identified in the UK Covid inquiry is no substitute. It is better than nothing, that is all. Its remit isn’t broad enough, and it will spectacularly lack capacity.
Devolution was to herald a new way of doing politics in Wales. Finally and incrementally we have argued the case for - and won the right to - have more powers that affect the lives of our people.
If you seek the responsibility, you have a duty not to shy away from it. I will always speak out against Tory governments at Westminster trampling over our hard-won constitutional gains. But when a Labour government in Wales runs away from accountability for exercising the powers we do hold, our democracy is all the poorer for it.
Last month, the north Wales coroner John Gittens wrote to Welsh Ministers asking them to consider holding a public inquiry following the death of four patients under the care of the Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board vascular service. The wall of silence from Ministers was only broken when the story appeared in the press – and still there remains no commitment to establishing the inquiry – despite a series of damning reports into vascular services within the health board since it was centralised at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd.
Indeed, when I renewed Plaid Cymru’s calls on the Health Minister to instigate a public inquiry into the Health Board earlier this year, when it re-entered special measures and lost its eighth Chief Executive in nearly as many years, I was accused of “harping on”.
I make no apology for discharging my duty on behalf of constituents.
When governments get it right, they should rightly be congratulated. If common ground can be found, it’s always best to search for it. The greatest devolution dividend of all has arguably been the ability to pool ideas for the greater good, a cross party approach which is the antithesis of Westminster.
But we won’t agree on everything, and disagreeing agreeably is healthy – it’s the very essence of a vibrant political landscape – no matter how much we would like it not to be the case.
And on the most important of issues - assessing and understanding how Wales prepared for and responded to the greatest life changing event of our generation - I do wish we could find agreement.
Decisions that affect Wales must be scrutinised in Wales. To me, that’s not up for debate and neither do I think it should be for those who have both the honour and responsibility of leading our government.