Covid-19 victims and bereaved families in Northern Ireland should mobilise immediately to influence the terms of reference of any statutory investigation, a leading expert has said.
Public inquiry lawyer Michael Imperato, of Watkins and Gunn, said victims, their families, and the public and private sectors must have their say on any future probe into the pandemic.
Northern Ireland has seen one of the highest death rates of any developed country during the pandemic.
Mr Imperato said: “It is inevitable there will be a public inquiry.
“Now is the time for impacted groups and victims in Northern Ireland to seek to shape its form and the nature of the investigation with the aim of securing fair outcomes.
“Once such a probe starts, it is too late to do that.
“Influencing the scope of a public inquiry is a major battle, and if those who want to do it are unprepared for the fight, ultimately, they lose out.
“A failure to involve Northern Ireland victims and their families, as well as all the relevant elements of the public and private sectors in the terms of reference will ultimately undermine confidence in the good faith of any inquiry.”
The UK Government says it wants to work with the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales on its scope.
The Prime Minister also promised to appoint a chair for the official Covid inquiry before Christmas, after meeting a campaign group.
But in Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wants to start a statutory inquiry there as soon as possible, and is already seeking input into its remit.
The Northern Ireland Assembly is yet to commit to holding a statutory inquiry.
But Mr Imperato, who represented victims of the contaminated blood scandal, said it is imperative the facts about how it was handled in Northern Ireland come to light.