As the public fallout from the Claudy bomb cover-up continues, Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson has warned that the families of other Troubles atrocities victims may have to wait up to 50 years to find out the truth about their loss.
In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, he said this was “unacceptable” and again urged politicians and communities to find a better way of dealing with Northern Ireland’s violent past.
There are currently 106 historical cases on his desk — all requiring detailed examination.
It took eight years to complete the Claudy investigation, a report that confirmed a cover-up by Government, police and the Catholic Church after priest Fr James Chesney was identified in RUC intelligence reports as a senior member of the IRA who had directed the bombings.
“I dismay at the task we have in front of us,” Mr Hutchinson told this newspaper.
“I don’t think it’s the right course.
“I have appealed and I appeal again to Government to work hard with civil society to find a cross-community solution to getting truth and information.”
On the caseload currently with his office, he admitted: “Well, I’m saying it will take up to 50 years.
“I’ve met a number of families and laid that truth on the line.
“It’s not only unacceptable, but that’s 106 cases today and we keep getting referrals from the Historical Enquiries Team (and) the public keeps coming forward to us.”
Mr Hutchinson accepted that the reality of a 50-year wait was that people would never get the information they wanted.
“Well, absolutely,” he responded.
“People will languish. People will unfortunately pass on. Memories fail, records/evidence does not exist as it is now.
“It simply is a tragedy and I hope there is a new solution found.”
The workload in his office, he said, represented “the anguish of people out there searching for truth”.
Recently the Ombudsman revealed details of a new advisory panel established to help his office better deal with victims. That group will meet early next month.
“I am looking for help in telling us how we can prioritise those cases how we can in the absence of an Eames-Bradley framework carry forward our work in the office and try to be sensitive to victims,” Mr Hutchinson said.
The Eames-Bradley Consultative Group produced detailed proposals for a Legacy Commission with investigation and information recovery units.
But the document was shelved in a fall-out over proposed recognition payments to all families who lost someone in the conflict and over the role the Government would have in appointing the commission and writing its remit.