Northern Ireland news

Troubles inquests delayed again after DUP blocks funding bid

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan. Picture by Hugh Russell

LONG-AWAITED inquests into some of the most high-profile killings of the Troubles are to be delayed further after the Stormont executive failed to seek extra funding.

A landmark plan to deal with 56 cases involving the deaths of almost 100 people was put forward by Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan in February.

But proposals to put a funding request to Secretary of State Theresa Villiers were not discussed before the assembly was dissolved.

It was claimed First Minister Arlene Foster blocked the funding request from being included on the executive's discussion agenda.

During a BBC election debate on Tuesday night she said she had wanted more time to discuss the proposal with the lord chief justice.

Sir Declan, the north's most senior judge, aimed to establish a Legacy Inquest Unit to handle outstanding cases within five years - provided that money was available.

Cases include the shooting of eight IRA men at Loughgall, the loyalist murder of GAA official Sean Brown in Co Derry and the IRA killing of 10 Protestant men at Kingsmill.

DUP MP Nigel Dodds last night said Sir Declan's proposal would have cost too much.

"Our priority in dealing with the past is ensuring access to justice for everyone, no rewriting of the past and proper support for innocent victims," he said.

"This proposal would have cost more than anticipated and would have seriously impacted on the ability of the Executive to address the needs of innocent victims.

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

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

In March, Sir Declan warned that if no funding was agreed the inquest unit would not be set up in September.

He said if there was no funding, "at best" one or two cases could be looked at before Christmas.

Families hit out at the delay on Tuesday night.

Briege Voyle, whose mother was shot by British soldiers in Ballymurphy in August 1971, said it was "another slap in the face to victims' families".

"This is a disgrace. Arlene Foster is effectively preventing the truth about 95 deaths," she said.

"Is she now saying she doesn't want the truth coming out about what happened to two police officers and innocent civilians from both unionist and nationalist communities murdered by paramilitaries?"

Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly said the British government has a responsibility to fund legacy inquests.

"It needs to face up to its responsibilities and provide adequate funding for legacy inquests and investigations so families can have access to truth," he said.

Patrick Corrigan from Amnesty International said bereaved families had waited for decades for a proper investigation

"To snatch away the prospect of an inquest, after decades of delay and denial of justice, will only add to victims' sense of betrayal," he said.

"Putting right this wrong must be the number one item on the agenda at the first meeting of the new Northern Ireland Executive after this week's election."

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