Politicians rapped for logjam over NI legacy cases
Families waiting for long-delayed legacy inquests face a bleak future unless the political will is found to deliver stalled reforms of the coronial system, Northern Ireland's leading criminal justice inspector has warned.
Brendan McGuigan, chief inspector with Criminal Justice Inspection (CJINI), highlighted the "transformative" potential of a new unit proposed by the region's top judge as he published a report on the police's role in the slow-moving process.
Around 50 legacy cases, some relating to Troubles killings 45 years ago, have yet to be heard.
In February 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 yet to agree to stump up the £10m needed to fund the process.
Mr McGuigan said the Lord Chief Justice's initiative "is a once-in-a-generational opportunity to really move these issues on". He added: "Without these, it's very bleak. I think we will have more of the same and I think the frustration and hurt and feelings of families will not be dealt with at all."
The package of mechanisms to deal with the wider legacy of the Troubles is stuck in the starting blocks due to a dispute between Sinn Fein and the Government on the potential of State papers being withheld from families on the grounds of national security.
While the row relates to a new Historical Investigations Unit, the DUP has refused to sign off on funding the outstanding inquests until consensus is reached on all aspects of the package.
In recent years police have faced heavy criticism for the time they take to security vet and disclose documents to the coroner.
Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton, head of the PSNI's Legacy and Justice Department, said the PSNI "will consider this report carefully".
But he said "it is important to point out that measures such as bringing in additional staff and investing in technology require additional funding".
He said the PSNI "would once again reiterate our support for the proposals that the Lord Chief Justice has made in relation to dealing with legacy inquests".
"If a schedule of prioritisation of legacy inquests was established, it would assist greatly in a more effective process, allowing the PSNI to deploy the resources it currently has in this area with the greatest degree of efficiency," he said.