There has been furious local reaction after it emerged that the process of legacy inquests into th e ‘Troubles’ killings have been shelved.
It has been revealed that a request by the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan, to have funding released to continue re-examining 56 outstanding cases was not discussed by the Northern Ireland Executive prior to the dissolution of Stormont.
This now means that the process of attempting to resolve historical killings cases will remain in limbo at least until a new post-election Executive is formed in the coming weeks.
Top level political talks on the funding request by Sir Declan Morgan were blocked by First Minister, Arlene Foster. Under the Executive’s rules the proposal needed the approval of both the DUP leader and Martin McGuinness to be placed on the agenda for discussion. A statement from the DUP later stated that this would have impacted on the ability of the Executive to address the needs of the bulk of victims and that the issue would be returned to during the next Stormont Executive.
However, a Derry based lawyer has launched a scathing attack on the situation. Richard Campbell has been dealing with the cases of two victims of State violence in the city in 1972, those of Seamus Bradley and Manus Deery.
Speaking to the ‘Journal,’ Mr. Campbell said: “I am in shock over this. I cannot believe a request by the Lord Chief Justice, to help resolve these cases, has simply been ignored. I am gobsmacked.
“I am sorry to say that the impact this will have on the Bradley family, in particular, will be devastating because it was so close to a resolution but now it is case of being so near, but yet so far away. I am dumfounded that a request by the leading legal figure in the country was ignored. If he cannot get a resolution, then who can? What are these so-called political representatives actually doing apart from sitting on their hands. I am furious about this. I cannot see any resolution for these families, no other road for them to turn down.”
However, whilst the shelving of the coronial process emerged on Tuesday, it appears that the Coroner’s Service had been prepared to break the bad news to victims families.
A letter, seen by the ‘Journal,’ sent by the Service on April 25 and signed by Mr Justice Colton, the Presiding Coroner, indicates his department, as late as last week, had no firm decision on the requested funding package. This was even though Sir Declan Morgan placed his proposal via the Department of Justice for the drawing down of funds last month. A portion of that letter stated: “It remains unclear when we will be in a position to implement the plan the Lord Chief Justice put forward for dealing with the outstanding legacy caseload. The length of time it takes for a decision to be made on funding will affect the timeframe for the establishment of the new Legacy Inquest Unit.”
The Pat Finucane Centre in Derry have also lambasted the decision. Paul O’Connor from the centre which specialies in investigating killings during the ‘Troubles’ said: “These latest developments will cause delays but these inquests will go ahead. There is a legal requirement and the Council of Ministers in Strasbourg will not take kindly to this cynical pre-election intervention.
“If the DUP continues to block then pressure must be put on the N. Ireland Office to fund these inquests from London since that is where responsibility lies for what happened under direct rule.
“In the north-west this would mean that the Kathleen Thompson and Thomas Friel Inquests, though granted, will now be delayed.”