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Justice Department has insufficient funds for legacy inquests, warns David Ford

Published 04/02/2016

Justice Minister for Northern Ireland David Ford warned of a funding shortage
Justice Minister for Northern Ireland David Ford warned of a funding shortage

The cash-strapped Department of Justice does not have enough money to progress dozens of outstanding legacy inquests, a Stormont scrutiny committee has heard.

Justice Minister David Ford revealed his officials were at loggerheads with the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) over the allocation of £30 million set aside by the Treasury to deal with Northern Ireland's toxic past.

He said: "I am absolutely confident that the department does not have the money to do what is required."

A major review of 56 cases which include killings carried out by both paramilitaries and security forces has been ordered by Northern Ireland's Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, who took over presidency of the Coroners Court last November.

Sir Declan has acknowledged the current system is "not fit for purpose", highlighting that only 13 legacy inquests have been heard in 10 years. Only three have been heard since 2012.

High-profile Troubles incidents such as the Ballymurphy shootings by the Army in 1971 and the security forces' alleged "shoot to kill" deaths in the 1980s are among those inquests yet to be heard.

The failure of politicians to sign off on proposed mechanisms to deal with the legacy of the Troubles during the Fresh Start Agreement negotiations has also left initiatives to better support for the Coroners Service in limbo.

Mr Ford was giving evidence to MLAs on the justice committee at Parliament Buildings.

He added: "There have been discussions between the department, the chief justice and the chief constable and others in terms of resourcing issues to step up the tempo of the inquest system.

"I have made the point to the Secretary of State that the Treasury has earmarked up to £30 million a year for five years.

"Her position is that, that is dependent upon new institutions being set up. My position is inquests are not to be part of a new institution because there was no agreement in Stormont House about subsuming inquests into a new institution."

Sinn Fein MLA Raymond McCartney, vice chairman of the committee, said the recent case review highlighted the "strain" being placed on the Coroners Court.

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