Northern Ireland’s Secretary of State Shailesh Vara has clarified his decision to sign a Public Interest Immunity (PII) certificate as part of the investigation into Belfast teen Noah Donohoe’s death and says that he would be happy to meet with Donohoe’s family.

Vara's signing of the PII last month following an application from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has been met with sharp criticism from Donohoe's family as well as politicians.

Speaking on Monday in Co Down, Vara said: “What I would say is that as far as signing the certificate is concerned, I did it after very, very careful consideration.

“I looked at the files in detail and I can give an absolute assurance that notwithstanding the redactions - which are nowhere near the assertions that have been made that are hundreds and hundreds of pages redacted, that is complete nonsense - let me make it absolutely clear that notwithstanding the redactions, there is nothing that would impact the substance of this case concerning the sad passing of Noah.

“And of course, the ultimate decision rests with the coroner who is an independent judicial officer and he will of course have the final say."

He continued: “I am more than happy to meet with Noah’s family.

“If they wish to meet me then certainly I would be delighted to do so and very happy to try and explain to Noah’s mother where I am coming from.”

Vara said that Noah and Noah’s family and friends are in his prayers and thoughts.

In June 2020, Noah Donohoe, 14, was found dead in a storm drain in Belfast six days after being reported missing. Police have been investigating his death while his mother Fiona Donohoe is leading a campaign that has drawn strong support to find out exactly what happened to her son.

According to the UK government, a PII "allows a party to refrain from disclosing a document if doing so would be damaging to the public interest."

In an update posted on August 5 on the online petition "Release the Noah Donohoe files," Noah's mother Fiona Donohoe wrote: "Shailesh Vara stepped into the temporary role of SoS [Secretary of State] for N Ireland early in July. One of the first actions he signed off was to allow redaction of 3 files of evidence in Noah's case.

"I believe he did not personally consider all the information surrounding Noah's death and the consequent PSNI investigation.

"The next step is for the Coroner Mr. Joe Mc Crisken to make [the] final decision."

Later, on August 11, KRW Law, who is representing the Donohoe family, said they have "grave concerns" about the PII.

An inquest into Noah Donohoe's death is set to begin this November. Last November, 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?" 

Vara's comments on Monday come two days after thousands of people, including several politicians, gathered in Belfast to support Fiona Donohoe in her search for justice.

Speaking at Saturday's rally, Fiona Donohoe said: "I think we're all making a statement today to the Secretary of State and also the coroner who now makes the decision. This coroner has to take this on board, all of us, we are Noah's voice."

She added: "No the PII - retract it!"

Video of today's protest demanding #JusticeForNoah. Important to be able to speak to so many people today at the protest. The establishment have repeatedly failed the Donohoe family, it's long time for a new investigation and PII to be scrapped!

— Gerry Carroll (@GerryCarrollPBP) August 13, 2022

MLA Gerry Carroll of People Before Profit said to the crowd: "If the PSNI are certain about how Noah died, why are they unwilling to release key information?"

Carroll added that he stands by calls for Chief Constable of the PSNI Simon Byrne to resign. He also encouraged members to resign from the Policing Board.

Sinn Féin MP John Finucane told the gathering: "That Noah’s image is now so recognisable, that we all have a sense of who he was and what he loved doing is a painful testament to the love of a mother who is now left fighting for truth and justice, fighting to find out what happened to her son.

“Because that is why we are gathered here today, just as we have all gathered on so many occasions, too many occasions, since Noah’s disappearance in June 2020.

“We gather to show that Fiona and her family do not stand alone. That when she fights for the answers she deserves through our legal system, she knows and everyone knows that there are so many who stand with her and support her.”

I was proud to speak today at Belfast City Hall in support of Fiona Donohoe’s demands for truth & justice for Noah.

We need, & we demand, that justice is done for Fiona & her family.

— John Finucane MP (@johnfinucane) August 13, 2022