Belfast Telegraph

Judge's anger over inquests logjam caused by money row

By David Young, PA

A coroner has expressed profound regret that an ongoing funding row is hampering efforts to progress Troubles-linked inquests.

Justice Adrian Colton said preparatory work he would like to undertake simply cannot be actioned due to the lack of resources.

Presiding at a preliminary hearing for the long-stalled inquest for 11 people shot dead by the Army in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast in 1971, Mr Colton said he still had no idea how much money he would have at his disposal at the start of the next financial year.

The Ballymurphy case is one of around 50 historic Troubles-related inquests still stuck in the system due a political impasse over paying for them.

A year ago Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan proposed that a specialist unit be set up that could deal with the cases within five years. However, politicians have so far failed to agree to stump up the £10 million needed to fund the process.

The recent political crisis that collapsed the Assembly and triggered a snap election has rendered a resolution even less likely in the short-term.

Judge Colton told relatives: "Back in November, there was still a prospect that the Lord Chief Justice's proposals might be met with some favour.

"Clearly that is not the case now and is not going to be the case in the near future.

"We are trying to do the best we can on very limited resources," he added.

"I do not know what resources will be available in April."

A Catholic priest and a mother-of-eight were among those gunned down during three days of shooting involving members of the Parachute Regiment in Ballymurphy in August 1971.

The episode is referred to by bereaved families as the "Ballymurphy massacre". The money for the historic inquests was to be accessed as part of a Government financial package addressing a range of issues linked to Northern Ireland's past.

The suite of mechanisms to deal with the legacy of the Troubles is stuck in the starting blocks due to an ongoing dispute between Sinn Fein and the Government on the potential of State papers being withheld from families on the grounds of national security.

A number of relatives involved in the cases are currently taking legal action against Stormont ministers and the Government over the failure to fund the new inquest unit.

Amid robust legal exchanges around delays in progressing issues such as file disclosure and identifying military witnesses, the judge stressed the context within which his office was working.

"I regret to say that we are constrained in relation to what we would like to do by our existing resources.

"There are many things that I would like to do in relation to this case and other cases and we are simply not able to do them because of resources.

"That is a matter of profound regret."

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