Northern Ireland Secretary Shailesh Vara has offered to meet the mother of Noah Donohoe to explain his decision to approve a police application to withhold some information from an inquest into the death of the schoolboy.
Mr Vara stressed that the ultimate decision on the redaction of police files rested with the coroner and said claims that hundreds of pages would be redacted were “complete nonsense”.
Noah, a pupil at St Malachy’s College in Belfast, was found dead in a storm drain in north Belfast in June 2020, six days after he went missing.
His mother, Fiona Donohoe, hopes to find answers to some of the questions surrounding Noah’s death through the inquest process, and has called for police files relating to the investigation to be released in full.
A public interest immunity (PII) certificate has been signed by Mr Vara following an application by the PSNI.
Coroner Joe McCrisken will make a final decision on the PII application ahead of Noah’s inquest, scheduled for November 28.
On Saturday thousands of people protested in the centre of Belfast over the PPI application.
Speaking in Co Down, Mr Vara was asked about anger over his decision to sign the certificate.
He said: “First of all, can I express my prayers and thoughts for Noah’s family and friends in this very tragic and sad case.
“I think the whole community, our hearts must go out to the family at this difficult occurrence and this difficult time.
“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… the redactions… are nowhere near the assertion made that there 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 on the substance of the 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.
“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.”
The law firm representing the Donohoe family last week expressed “grave concerns” over Mr Vara’s actions, claiming the move appeared to “exacerbate rather than allay deeply held concerns”.
Northern Ireland first minister designate and Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill said Mr Vara’s decision was “totally unacceptable”, and added that the use of a PII in Noah’s case was “wholly inappropriate”.
Protesters carried signs and banners calling for “Justice for Noah” and chanted “No PII” and “Tell the truth” during the event at Belfast City Hall on Saturday.
Some wore blue-and-white striped jerseys with the number 14 on the back, Noah’s age when he died.