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Northern Ireland coroner's courts being 'starved of resources' says Sean Lynch

Published 05/10/2015

Coroner John Leckey is due to retire at the end of this month
Coroner John Leckey is due to retire at the end of this month

Coroner's courts in Northern Ireland are being starved of resources, the Assembly has been told.

Sinn Fein MLA Sean Lynch said some bereaved families believed there was a deliberate strategy to hamper progress in more than 50 complex Troubles-related cases involving State-run agents.

He said: "These are unacceptable delays and on the face of it appears to be a deliberate tactic to frustrate the truth from emerging."

Of the three full-time coroners currently operating in Northern Ireland, two are on sick leave.

Senior coroner John Leckey is also due to retire at the end of this month after a 43-year career.

A recruitment process to replace the 66-year-old was launched on September 10 - 18 months after he announced an intention to step down, the Assembly heard.

Mr Lynch said the "major and immediate problems" facing the coroner system must be urgently addressed.

"It is nothing short of a disgrace the manner in which families have been treated," he added.

There are currently 55 legacy cases relating to 86 deaths.

They include the murder of 10 protestant workmen at Kingsmill in 1976, the shooting of 10 people in Ballymurphy in 1971 and the killing of GAA official Sean Brown 18 years ago.

Justice Minister David Ford said county court and high court judges were being utilised to alleviate pressure on the system.

Two investigators to assist the coroner are also being appointed.

However, Mr Ford warned that funding for new measures was subject to the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement.

He said: "Progress in dealing with the past, including enhancement of the legacy inquest process, can only be made in the context of the full implementation of the Stormont House Agreement."

MLAs voted in favour of a motion demanding Justice Minister David Ford provide adequate resources to ensure the coronial system works in an effective and timely manner.

John Teggart, whose father Danny was shot dead in Ballymurphy, was among a number of victims' relatives at Stormont for the debate.

He said: "It is very disturbing for the families. We have been waiting for four years and we have not got out of the preliminary inquest stage.

"We need measures put in place to adequately resource the coroner's courts."

Mr Teggart is expected to meet the Justice Minister next month to discuss the issue.

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