Northern Ireland

Legacy Act: Relatives’ relief as NIO confirms Troubles reports can be published after May 1 investigation cut-off

Clarification comes after threat of legal action

A farm in Glenanne was alleged to be the base for a UVF gang. Picture by New Red TV
A farm at Glenanne, in south Armagh alleged to be the base for a gang that included members of the RUC, UDR and UVF

Troubles investigations that have reached their report stage can be published after the British government’s May 1 cut-off date.

Under the Legacy Act, all conflict-related investigations will end on May 1, along with civil case and inquests that have not reached their findings stage.

After that point Troubles’ cases will pass to the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR).

The contentious legislation is currently being challenged through the courts and the Irish government has also launched an inter-state case.

Fresh details emerged after lawyers for Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris responded to threats of legal action by the son of a man believed to have been murdered by the Glenanne Gang.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris is visiting the US
Chris Heaton-Harris (Oliver McVeigh/PA)

John McNiece, whose father Patrick was killed in July 1976, had threatened legal action to ensure the completion of a review, known as Operation Denton, into its activities currently being carried out by Operation Kenova.

Kenova was initially set up to investigate the activities of the British agent known as Stakeknife., with the report due to be published next month.

The team is also overseeing several other Troubles-linked investigations.

In response to Mr McNiece, an official from the Crown Solicitors’ Office confirmed that some ongoing investigations will be able to be published after May 1 under certain conditions.

A spokeswoman for the NIO said that section 38 of the Legacy Act “prohibits the commencement or continuation of any Troubles-related criminal investigation from 1 May 2024, apart from those which will be conducted by the ICRIR”.

However, she added that some work will now be permitted to continue.

Transitional provisions are a common legislative mechanism to help the changeover between an existing statutory framework and a new one.

The regulations will not amend the Legacy Act.

The spokeswoman said that transitional provision will apply to any body which has such “outstanding final administrative tasks” on May 1, including Operation Kenova, the PSNI and the Police Ombudsman.

Alan Brecknell
Alan Brecknell Alan Brecknell

Alan Brecknell’s father Trevor was killed along with two other men in an attack at Donnelly’s Bar in Silverbridge, south Armagh, in 1975, welcomed the development.

Last week the PPS confirmed that a former RUC man suspected of involvement will not be prosecuted.

Mr Brecknell said:

“That has been an issue for families, this (May 1) deadline, and it has been hanging over people’s heads and people are concerned, and rightly so.

“This letter shows the British government will not stand in the way of publication.”

Solicitor Owen Winters, of KRW Law described it as “welcome news”.

A spokesman for the Police Ombudsman said they welcome “the proposed regulations which will allow her to complete administrative tasks”.

An Operation Kenova spokesman said it remains “committed to publishing the interim (Stakeknife) report and then continue finalising the final reports and investigations”.