Northern Ireland’s Secretary of State Shailesh Vara's approval of Public Interest Immunity (PII) in relation to the investigation into the death of Belfast teen Noah Donohoe is being met with concern and outrage from Donohoe’s family as well as politicians.
Noah Donohoe's mother Fiona Donohoe said on Wednesday that the PII certificate has moved forward and was signed by Vara, who became Northern Ireland’s Secretary of State less than a month ago in the wake of the resignation of Brandon Lewis.
“How you were able to read all detail in short time to make decisions shows you are a PUPPET,” Fiona, who has been critical about the PSNI's handling of her son's death, tweeted.
Please retweet:— FIONA DONOHOE @firstname.lastname@example.org (@FIONADONOHOE2) July 27, 2022
The #PublicInterestImmunity certificate..has gone forward and signed by new #NISecretaryOfState @ShaileshVara
How you were able to read all detail in short time to make decisions shows you are a PUPPET #TruthIsThePublicsInterest#JusticeForNoahDonohoe pic.twitter.com/afYcmdmyY7
According to the UK government, PII, previously known as ‘crown privilege’, is a tenet of common law. It means that the courts/tribunal can grant an order or direction that allows a party to refrain from disclosing a document if doing so would be damaging to the public interest.
A spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Office told The Belfast Telegraph that the Secretary of State carefully considered the application having been fully briefed by officials, but added that they “do not comment on ongoing coronial proceedings."
In a statement on Thursday, Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan said: “The Police Service of Northern Ireland submitted an application for Public Interest Immunity (PII) to the Secretary of State in June 2022.
“As always, the Coroner will continue to have full sight of all material in this case and he will have the final decision on PII.”
Sinn Féin politicians have joined Fiona Donohoe in speaking out against the signing of the PII.
MLA Gerry Kelly, who is Sinn Féin's policing spokesperson, said on Thursday: “One of the first actions of the new British Secretary of State, who has only been office for a number of weeks, is signing off an application for the PSNI to conceal information related to the Noah Donohoe case.
“This is deeply concerning and I am again calling on the PSNI to withdraw this application because the Donohoe family deserve answers, not secrecy and cover up.
“Public Interest Immunity certificates (PII) are used to conceal information. They were and are extensively used to hold back information in conflict legacy cases.
“This inquest is about the death of a 14-year-old child. It is not conflict related.
“We will continue to stand with the Donohoe family in their campaign for truth, transparency and accountability.”
One of the first actions of the new British Secretary of State has been to sign a PII certificate to conceal information on the death of 14-year-old Noah Donohoe! He should read the files and withdraw the use of conflict gagging orders in the case of this innocent child’s death.— Gerry Kelly (@GerryKellyMLA) July 28, 2022
John Finucane, MP for North Belfast, echoed Kelly's comments, saying Vara's signing of the PII is "deeply concerning and shameful."
The decision of the British Secretary of State to approve a PII certificate to hide information relating to Noah Donohoe’s death is deeply concerning & shameful.
We will continue to stand with Fiona Donohoe & her family in their campaign for truth & justice.— John Finucane MP (@johnfinucane) July 28, 2022
On Friday, Michelle O'Neill, First Minister-Designate of Northern Ireland, said in a statement that she has written to Vara "making it clear that the use of a Public Interest Immunity (PII) certificate to conceal information on the death of Noah Donohoe is totally unacceptable.
“We are talking about the tragic death of a 14-year-old child, his family deserves to have truth and transparency on what happened to this little boy.
“I previously raised my concerns on the matter with Chief Constable, Simon Byrne and Deputy Chief Constable, Mark Hamilton where the case has been put that any application for a PII certificate is wholly inappropriate and is adding significant distress to the Donohue family.
“The application should be withdrawn immediately.
"I will continue to support Noah’s mum and his family every step of the way in their search for truth, transparency and accountability.”
I have raised serious concerns with British Secretary of State, Shailesh Vara, following his approval of a PII certificate to conceal information relating to Noah Donohoe.
The PII certificate must be withdrawn now.
Fiona and her family deserve full access to truth and justice.— Michelle O’Neill (@moneillsf) July 29, 2022
Fiona Donohoe and her family have mounted a campaign to find out what really happened to her 14-year-old son Noah Donohoe, who was found dead in a Belfast storm drain on June 21, 2020, six days after he was reported missing. A post-mortem said that Donohoe died as a result of drowning.
In November 2021, it was announced that the inquest that was set to begin in January 2022 had been delayed as the Donohoe family's legal team was facing "outstanding issues," including the disclosure of certain police documents. At the time, Fiona raised the issue of the PII, saying "how can we get answers for Noah is [if] pieces of the jigsaw are taken from the whole picture?"
How can we get answers for Noah is pieces of the jigsaw are taken from the whole picture????— FIONA DONOHOE @email@example.com (@FIONADONOHOE2) November 3, 2021
The inquest into Noah Donohoe's death is now set to begin this November.