Belfast Telegraph

SF calls for release of legacy inquest funds

By Mark Bain

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald has called for funding for legacy inquests in Northern Ireland to be released without further delay, and says the final decision now rests with the Government.

Speaking after what she described as "very successful" meetings with PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton and Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan in Belfast yesterday, Ms McDonald said families have "waited for decades without answers and there is now no further excuse for delay".

"This was my first meeting with the Chief Constable since becoming party president and it was a constructive engagement," she commented.

"The delay in implementing the legacy mechanisms agreed at Stormont featured prominently in discussions with both the Chief Constable and the Lord Chief Justice.

"And while the delay is the responsibility of the DUP and the British Government, clearly there is growing frustration at the failure to progress this issue.

"Some families have been waiting almost 50 years for the basic right of a proper inquest to be held, and the Lord Chief Justice has put forward a plan to clear the backlog."

Ms McDonald continued: "This outrageous foot-dragging is entirely unacceptable. The monies to fund the inquests must be released immediately and that is the message we will continue taking directly to the British Government.

"We initially believed it would be a call made by departments here. It transpires that is not the case.

"We will remain very forceful and it is our insistence that the monies are now released.

"I will be meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May on June 20 and we will put this to her again.

"I hope given the fact that the business case has been gathered, and that we're now told it's a matter of due diligence, that calls will be made very speedily and that resources required will be released without any further delay.

"In the immediacy of the here and now there is no excuse, no reason, no decent rationale for delaying the legacy inquests or withholding the funding from them. The call is now with London."

Following the meeting, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said the lack of resources available to him to hold inquests into the deaths of more than 50 people killed during the Troubles must be addressed.

"I recognise the disappointment felt by the families that since we met in February 2016 we have only been able to make very limited progress in dealing with the outstanding legacy inquests," he said.

"The important matter now is to address the issue of resources and ensure we move as quickly as possible to provide a resolution on the remaining cases."

Sir Declan's office added that he is happy to meet with any political party over this issue.

Ms McDonald was leading a delegation including deputy leader Michelle O'Neill and policing spokesman Gerry Kelly.

"We also pressed on the Chief Constable the importance of ensuring there is no repeat of the intimidation in Belfast last year when people were driven from their homes in mixed developments," she said. "This kind of paramilitary intimidation, which often begins with the erection of flags that are intended to intimidate, is intolerable and there must be a sustained policing effort to tackle it.

"We can't have an other summer of intimidation.

"Families must feel safe to go about their business free of intimidation from the towering infernos of bonfires.

"The impact of budget cuts, Brexit and the need for more co-operation with An Garda Siochana were also discussed and we expressed concerns at the PSNI's sustained under-resourcing of the neighbourhood policing teams.

"It is important there is a sustained policing effort to tackle the scourge of paramilitary intimidation and violence.

"Cuts to the budgets affecting policing with the community is a serious mistake."

Belfast Telegraph

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