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Families of Troubles victims take their fight for inquests funding to the courts

By David Young, PA

Published 23/09/2016

A cross-community group gather at Stormont to deliver the legal letters
A cross-community group gather at Stormont to deliver the legal letters

Bereaved relatives impacted by a failure to fund stalled Troubles inquests are taking legal action against the Government and Stormont ministers.

Members of more than 30 families, from both unionist and nationalist backgrounds, hand-delivered notice of the challenge to the offices of Secretary of State James Brokenshire at Stormont House in Belfast.

Similar letters were also delivered to the offices of First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and to Stormont's Department of Justice.

Rita Bonner, whose brother John Laverty was shot dead by British soldiers in Ballymurphy, west Belfast, in 1971, said the ongoing failure to hold an inquest into his and other deaths was a "total and utter disgrace".

"In any other democratic society we wouldn't be standing here - we shouldn't have to be standing here pleading for our inquest to be opened," she added.

Nichola Baxter, whose cousin Craig McCausland was killed by loyalist paramilitaries in 2005, also claimed that families were being denied closure. "I come from a unionist background, and we are waiting 11 years for an inquest and therefore a death certificate - simple things that the law says we are entitled to as families," she said.

"We are not getting answers, and it's the same for everybody here. At lot of people here are waiting longer than 11 years and it's an absolute disgrace."

The action is being taken in the name of Briege Voyle, whose mother Joan Connolly was also shot by the Army in 1971 in the Ballymurphy massacre. The action alleges that the authorities are in breach of international human rights laws by failing to release £10m to pay for a new unit to deal with the outstanding legacy cases.

There are around 50 stalled inquests relating to almost 100 deaths. Some of the deaths date back more than 40 years.

The killings span allegations of security forces misinformation, State collusion in loyalist murders, inept police investigations and IRA men shot dead by security forces as part of an alleged shoot-to-kill policy.

In February, Northern Ireland Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan proposed that a specialist unit be set up that could deal with the outstanding cases within five years.

Politicians have so far failed to agree to stump up the £10m needed to fund the process.

The money is to be accessed as part of a Government financial package to deal with a range issues related to the toxic past of the Troubles.

But Mr Brokenshire has insisted it can only be released if Mrs Foster and Mr McGuinness formally request funding for Sir Declan's initiative. No such request has been made because DUP leader Mrs Foster has refused to sign off on the bid.

A spokesman for the NIO said: "The Executive, which has responsibility for inquests in Northern Ireland, is rightly considering how the legacy inquest system can be improved. We will look carefully at their proposals as soon as they are submitted."

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