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Legacy inquests funding: James Brokenshire should hang his head in shame, say SDLP

Published 08/11/2016

Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire
Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire

James Brokenshire should "hang his head in shame" over the failure to release funding for legacy inquests, the Stormont Assembly has been told.

The Northern Ireland Secretary was also accused of failing Troubles victims by not adhering to their demands for justice.

SDLP MLA Alex Attwood said: "He meets and then he does not listen and then he does not live up to his responsibilities under international law as the British Government to release monies in relation to this matter.

"He should hang his head in shame that on one hand he invites victims in to meet him, and on the other hand he then does not heed what they request."

The comments were made as Assembly members debated a motion demanding millions of pounds be released to fund more than 50 stalled inquests relating to almost 100 Troubles deaths.

Proposed mechanisms to address the needs of victims, and the accompanying Government funding package, are stuck in the starting blocks due to a political wrangle linked to the potential non-disclosure of state papers on national security grounds.

The package agreed by Stormont leaders and the UK and Irish governments, which includes a new investigations unit, a truth recovery mechanism, an oral history archive, and enhanced funding for Troubles-related inquests, will not become reality until the logjam is overcome.

The national security dispute is primarily between the UK Government and Sinn Fein, but the Democratic Unionists are refusing to sign off on the funding boost for legacy inquests until all the other issues are sorted.

Sinn Fein's Declan Kearney, who tabled the motion, said: "National security is a smoke screen.

"There is no arguable way in which disclosure of information about the actions of state forces or agents 20, 30 or 40 years ago could in any way undermine British national security in the present day's geopolitical context."

Mr Kearney said the Government was obliged to carry out timely and effective investigations into legacy issues under Human Rights legislation.

"That's not an optional extra," he added.

"I charge that after 45 years it is well past time for the British Government to ensure that the coronial system here is capable of satisfying its Article Two (European Convention on Human Rights) obligations."

Last week, members of more than 30 families, from unionist and nationalist backgrounds, launched a legal action against the Stormont Executive and British Government to force the release of legacy funds.

It is being taken in the name of Briege Voyle, whose mother Joan Connolly was shot by the Army in 1971 in an episode relatives refer to as the Ballymurphy massacre, and alleges that the authorities are in breach of international human rights laws by their ongoing failure to release £10 million to pay for a new unit to deal with the outstanding legacy cases.

The killings span allegations of security force 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.

Justice Minister Claire Sugden told the Assembly that families had waited "far too long for justice".

"The continuing delay is having an unacceptable impact, not only on our wider community and justice system," she said.

"We owe it to the victims and their families to make the Lord Chief Justice's vision a reality."

Meanwhile, unionists raised issues around perceived inequalities and claimed the current system created a hierarchy of victims.

Tabling an amendment, Ulster Unionist Doug Beattie said: "We need to have lateral thinking as to how we get round this because we are entrenched.

"We are entrenched in our position that everybody should get an equal shout at this and others are saying no, lets get these legacy inquests up and running because the state was involved and it owes them. And, I can see both sides of the argument here."

The DUP's Paul Frew said he could not support the proposal or amendment.

The North Antrim MLA said: "You have to make sure you treat people fairly and treat people equally. It is important we move forward in agreement to make sure we serve all victims."

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