Derry City and Strabane District Council is set to write to Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris calling for him to cancel the Public Interest Immunity Certificate (PII) that was issued in relation to the 2020 death of schoolboy Noah Donohoe.
he application to redact sensitive material was made by the PSNI and signed off by Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Shailesh Vara.
It was met with criticism by the Donohoe family and the Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill.
The motion was brought before council by independent Paul Gallagher, who called for “openness and transparency” in the upcoming inquest into the death after the application for the PII was made and later granted.
Noah, who was 14-years-old, disappeared while cycling from his home in south Belfast to meet friends across the city in June 2020 and was later found dead in a storm drain in north Belfast.
Speaking before council, Mr Gallagher said: “Thousands of people have taken to the streets in Strabane, Derry and Belfast and they have been campaigning for the cancellation of the PII in the case of Noah Donohoe.
“They are very much to the fore in supporting the family and the need for openness and transparency in this case for this young boy.
“I believe it is very important that this council, this corporate body supports the rights of this family which has local connections in this district, in their rights to justice and their rights be seen to be delivered. In the case of the PII, and we know all about them, are not about openness and transparency.”
Mayor Sandra Duffy thanked Mr Gallagher for bringing the motion forward adding: “I appreciate getting the opportunity to discuss it.”
SDLP councillor Shauna Cusack began by thanking everyone who had been ‘vociferous in their pursuit of justice for Noah.’
The Foyleside elected representative said: “Anyone in this part of the country cannot be ignorant to the Justice for Noah campaign and the bizarre, unexplained and deeply suspicious aspects of Noah’s disappearance and death.
“The inconsistencies, the police response and mostly the silence has led this case to become not just one of the regional but national and even international attentions and scrutiny.
“In the beginning as an ongoing investigation there was a modicum of hope that eventually the circumstances and details would come out and the family could begin to grieve now furnished with the truth.
“However, all this was dashed and everyone’s fears confirmed when the previous and latest of our two-minute MPs Secretary of State Shailesh Vara imposed a PII certificate on information sharing on the case and such was the strength of disbelief and outrage that the public here mobilised hugely and rallies were organised, petitions set up and social media platforms inundated.
“I personally took a petition to the doors of my constituency to those not IT comfortable and I was overwhelmed at the response. The genuine hurt, the anger and sympathy felt on behalf of the Donohoe family and hundreds of signatures were gathered and sent to the then Secretary of State Shailesh Vara.
“The response to the petition and my correspondence was pitiful and came in the form of an impersonal email from the Northern Ireland office. The main paragraph stated ‘The Secretary of State has carefully considered the application for PII and after close scrutiny of the information considered that the balance of the public interest is in favour of the information being subject to PII.’ ”
Independent councillor Raymond Barr called it a “sad state of affairs” and asked why if there was no foul play, as police claimed, was this case “over two years down the line not been closed”.
Independent councillor Gary Donnelly made an amendment stating that ‘This council supports the Donohoe family in their call for Noah’s inquest to be heard in front of a jury.’
“This is a harrowing case, it is a disturbing case,” he commented. “What this family are going through is amazing. The fact they are still there and fighting is remarkable. I would like to echo their request that it be heard in front of a jury.”
Sinn Fein councillor Michaela Boyle offered the party’s support to the motion and amendment adding: “Fiona Donohoe is entitled to transparency.
“It’s been said there has been a petition of over 300,000 signatures supporting Fiona’s plea to see all the evidence at the inquest into her son’s death.
“An inquest for grieving families the opportunity to hear and examine all of the issues surrounding their loved ones death and Noah’s death there remains unanswered questions that need to be answered in a fair and transparent manner.”
Alliance councillor Rachael Ferguson and People Before Profit councillor Maeve O’Neill both tagged their voices of support, commending Fiona and Niamh Donohoe for their campaign and calling for the family’s wishes for a jury-led inquest to be followed.
The substantive motion passed unanimously. The motion will also be sent to the ten other councils in Northern Ireland.