Justice Minister David Ford's call over death probes: 'UK has duty to pay for inquiries into security force killings'
The Government has a moral and financial obligation to pay for investigations into security force killings during the Troubles, the Justice Minister has said.
David Ford backed a call for Westminster to finance probes relating to historic deaths at the hands of the police and soldiers.
More than 300 people were killed by the security forces in Northern Ireland.
Mr Ford said the British Government had responsibilities under European law.
"That's why in the political talks I've made it clear we need a new specialist unit - this would be something like the Historical Investigations Unit recommended by Richard Haass last year," he said. "We should be seeking funding for that from the British Government, given its role in the past."
Mr Ford's comments come after European human rights commissioner Nils Muiznieks warned the UK was breaching the European Convention on Human Rights by not holding timely inquests into the killings.
In April the Belfast Telegraph reported that 75 inquests into some of Northern Ireland's most controversial deaths are still outstanding.
They include cases which date back more than four decades, with the average wait for so-called legacy inquests to be dealt with now stretching beyond 20 years. As one of 47 members of the Council of Europe, the UK has signed up to the Convention on Human Rights.
Article Two of the Convention commits member states to carrying out independent, transparent and timely investigations into deaths.
Mr Ford said Article Two posed a difficult balance between "obligations to protect the life of people today as well as obligations to investigate deaths in the past".
"At the moment, the justice system is funded for today - it's not funded for the past," he said.
Mr Muiznieks had said budget cuts should not be used as an "excuse to hamper the work of those working for justice". His intervention has been criticised by Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt.
Mr Nesbitt said: "I understand Mr Muiznieks opened his contribution by acknowledging he had been in Northern Ireland for the grand total of 36 hours, yet was able to offer an opinion that basically again puts a media and public focus exclusively on the actions of the UK Government, police and Army, as if terrorists were not responsible for the huge majority of the 3,500 Troubles-related deaths."
Earlier this week Mr Ford paid tribute to members of the Prison Service who lost their lives as a result of their work.
Outstanding inquests include:
- Francis Rowntree (11), who was killed by a rubber bullet fired by the security forces in April 1972
- Eleven people shot dead in Ballymurphy over a three-day period after the introduction of internment in 1971
- Bernard Watt, who was killed by the Army in Ardoyne in February 1971