Northern Ireland news

Legacy inquest cash plan has been approved - but 'blocked'

The eight IRA men shot dead by the SAS at Loughgall. From top-left: Patrick McKearney, Tony Gormley, Jim Lynagh, Paddy Kelly; from bottom left: Declan Arthurs, Gerard O'Callaghan, Seamus Donnelly, Eugene Kelly. Picture by Pacemaker
Connla Young

THE British government has been accused of sitting on cash for high profile Troubles inquests after it emerged a Stormont department approved a business plan.

Concerns have been raised about continued delays in releasing money.

The government previously said funding would not be released until agreement is reached on all legacy issues.

It also said it had it had not received a request "for funding for this in terms of the executive".

The Conservative government has a supply and confidence agreement with the DUP - which in the past has failed to request inquest cash.

Following a judicial review in Belfast last year judge Sir Paul Girvan said former first minister Arlene Foster's decision not to consider bidding was flawed and unlawful.

A £150 million pot was allocated to deal with inquests as part of the Stormont House Agreement.

Read more: Loughgall killings among legacy cases in Coroner's Office backlog

There are more than 50 outstanding inquests with many involving people killed by the security forces and as a result of suspected collusion with loyalists.

It has now emerged that the Department of Finance approved a business case for legacy inquest funding last October.

Details emerged after British government officials made a recent submission to the Committee of Ministers in Europe.

In a statement to the committee it said: "In the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive, the UK Government and Department of Finance are working together on the NI budget for 2019-20."

A new business case was developed by the Department for Justice in conjunction with other key organisations last year after the High Court ruled last March that legacy inquests should not be dependent on securing agreement on wider legacy issues.

Anthony Hughes was shot dead at Loughgall

The judicial review was taken by Brigid Hughes, whose husband Anthony was shot dead by the SAS at Loughgall, in Co Armagh, in May 1987.

She challenged the delay in providing funding, which she said was a breach of her human rights.

Daniel Holder, Deputy Director of the Committee on the Administration of Justice, said: "It now turns out that they have been sitting on such a bid for months.

"Funding these inquests is an international human rights obligation and families have waited long enough, vague words about next year's budget are not enough, the UK needs to act now."

Sinn Féin legacy spokeswoman Linda Dillon said: “The funding is easy for them, all they have to do is give the money over."

SDLP Policing spokeswoman Dolores Kelly said the continued lack of funding was "outrageous".

Solicitor Darragh Mackin said: "We have taken steps on behalf of our clients to ensure that this order is complied with, and complied with in the near future."

A Northern Ireland Office spokeswoman last night said: "Management of the coronial inquest system is a devolved matter so it remains for NI departments to take decisions on how to allocate funding. The UK government continues to support reform to the legacy inquest system."

Read more: RUC men 'partied' in the back of Loughgall death van

The bullet riddled Hiace van in which 8 IRA men were shot dead by the SAS outside Loughgall RUC station in 1988. Picture by Pacemaker

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