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Senior judge calls for 'urgent' progress on legacy inquest funding

Published 04/05/2016

Families of those killed by the British Army in Ballymurphy in 1971 protest outside Parliament Buildings in Stormont
Families of those killed by the British Army in Ballymurphy in 1971 protest outside Parliament Buildings in Stormont
Northern Ireland's Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said he was disappointed there had been no agreement yet on funding for legacy inquiries

Northern Ireland's most senior judge has expressed disappointment that funding has not yet been found for legacy inquests.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan appealed for the new Stormont Executive to deal with the contentious matter urgently.

A statement from Sir Declan said: "The Lord Chief Justice is disappointed that the Northern Ireland Executive has not yet submitted a bid to the Secretary of State for funding for legacy inquests. The incoming Executive needs to agree a way forward on these cases, and indeed all of the outstanding issues in relation to dealing with the legacy of the past, as a matter of urgency."

Dozens of the most highly-disputed cases from the Troubles are awaiting inquests, decades after the killings took place.

They span allegations of security force misinformation to frame the IRA for bombings, state collusion in loyalist murders, inept police investigations, and IRA men shot dead by the army as part of a claimed policy of shooting to kill in which civilians died in the crossfire.

Sir Declan's proposals for a dedicated unit to hear cases over the next five years are dependent on the provision of additional resources.

However, Stormont ministers did not discuss the funding bid before the dissolution of the Assembly, thus delaying a suggested September start date for some historic cases.

Executive rules dictate that the First and Deputy First Ministers must agree if an issue is to be added to an agenda for discussion.

It is understood Arlene Foster blocked the inclusion of legacy funding when ministers met in Londonderry during March.

In a statement the DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said it would be considered again after Thursday's election.

He said: "It is essential that any proposals are fully costed and meet the needs of everyone affected.

"Preliminary discussions have taken place with the Northern Ireland Office in order to seek a way forward. The First Minister will meet the Secretary of State in due course.

"This issue will be considered again by the new Executive in light of the budgetary situation after the election."

Meanwhile, campaigners for victims of the Troubles voiced concern at the inquest delays during a protest at Stormont.

John Teggart, whose father Danny was among 10 people killed in what became known as the Ballymurphy massacre in August 1971, vowed to continue their quest for justice.

He said: "We are not going to be walked over. A proper inquest is something we should have had. After 40-odd years we are going through the coroner's court and you have politicians interfering.

"We will be up here after the election and we will let them know, this needs to be sorted."

Human rights lawyer Padraig O Muirigh, who also joined the Parliament Buildings picket, warned that families may be forced to take legal action to ensure progress is made.

He said: "The continuing delay in progressing these inquests is a great source of frustration for all the families.

"The British Government, as signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights have an obligation under Article Two to progress these inquests. Unless they do so, these families will have no option but to go to the High Court."

Judith Thompson, the Commissioner for Victims and Survivors, said doing nothing was not an option.

She said: "Legacy issues will not go away and for that reason I welcomed the recent proposals from the Lord Chief Justice on methods of progressing legacy inquests. This will provide a useful template for all future historical investigations, including the proposed establishment of a Historical Investigations Unit which would investigate all outstanding legacy cases.

"Adequate funding has always been a difficult issue and the complication of an election inevitably had the potential to slow up decisions.

"However, I know there is a will on all sides to move this very important issue forward and I can reassure the families that we will redouble our efforts to make this happen as soon as possible."

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