Jim Shannon: DUP MP whose tears captured the public mood sets out what he ‘wanted to say’ in the House of Commons
A DUP MP whose tears for his mother-in-law captured the public imagination during a debate on a lockdown-busting ‘bring your own booze’ event in Downing Street has called for “justice” for those who broke the rules.
Jim Shannon, who broke down earlier this week as he described in Parliament how his mother-in-law had “died alone” in hospital due to strict coronavirus rules, told the News Letter he has since been inundated with messages from others who lost loved ones during the pandemic – including a government minister.
Mr Shannon, whose only other interview since his emotional contribution in the House of Commons was with a Christian radio programme, told the News Letter about what he “wanted to say” in Parliament but couldn’t as he “lost control” when he was overcome with emotion.
“In the case of my mother-in-law, Jemima, she had multiple health problems so with those complex needs the Covid was enough to take her,” he explained. “She only lasted five days.
“Yesterday, when I got up to speak I thought of her and I sort of tried to say to myself ‘don’t think of that’ but the more I said ‘don’t think of her’, the more I did. I wasn’t in control, that’s just a fact.”
He continued: “The fact is, Jemima died in five days. She went into hospital on Monday and she was dead on Friday. We could never go and see her. I wanted to say this yesterday but I couldn’t.
“Jemima died in the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald in a side ward. We couldn’t see her. We couldn’t hold her hand. We couldn’t tell her we loved her. We couldn’t tell her how much we would miss her. My wife couldn’t be there either.
“And my sister-in-law, Roberta, was in intensive care in the same ward and she couldn’t even go across and see her because it was against the rules.
“Whenever she died, as you know in Northern Ireland whenever you die the funeral is usually within four or five days at the most, usually three. We had to wait over 10 days, 11 days, 12 days to get her buried. The coffin was closed. Those were the rules, so we couldn’t see her lovely face either.”
He added: “We were only allowed 25 people at the funeral, and it’s a big family. It’s aggrieved me greatly ever since. We had to put out an invitation list to the funeral because we had to restrict the numbers.
“There were people who wanted to be there who couldn’t be there. There were people who should have been there who weren’t.
“We followed the rules. We followed all the rules and so did everyone else who lost loved ones.”
The Strangford MP explained how others have been in contact to share their experiences.
“A great number of people have contacted me who have lost their brother, or lost their mother, their father,” he said. “I don’t know the people but what I said definitely struck a chord.
“I had a minister come to me today and he said ‘look Jim, I really appreciated what you had to say. My wife is in hospital and I couldn’t go and see her. I played by the rules’.
“They lost their twins and he said he couldn’t be close to his wife, he had to go home.
“I have had other ministers who have spoken to me, and people who have emailed me and texted me from all sorts of parties, all over the chamber.”
On the ‘bring your own booze’ event attended by the prime minister, Mr Shannon said he had confidence in the ongoing investigation, before adding: “I’m not setting out looking for anybody’s scalp, but I am looking for justice.”
He continued: “And I have to say that the people who are contacting me, they want justice. All of these emails and all of these texts, I think that reflects the public opinion. People are saying to me ‘you followed the rules, Jim, and so did we’.
“I want, indeed I demand on behalf of my own family and my constituents who have lost loved ones, a thorough, detailed and energetic investigation with all the evidential base that is quite apparent at this time.
“If anyone has broken the rules, that we adhered to when we buried my mother-in-law and all the other fmailies who followed the rules across the United Kingdom, I want severe penalties against those who knowingly contravened the rules when everybody else adhered.”
Mr Shannon added: “There seemed to be no consideration for the ordinary man and woman, who lost loved ones and whose heart is sore today. My mother-in-law passed away 15 months ago and we feel that every day.”
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