Relatives of teens killed in 1972 Belturbet bombing considering legal action amid concerns over new Legacy Bill
Relatives of two teenagers killed in a loyalist bombing in Co Cavan in 1972 are considering legal action amid concerns that the controversial new legacy legislation “might be used to try and shut down cases in the south”.
Solicitor Kevin Winters, who is representing the families of Geraldine O'Reilly (15) and Patrick Stanley (16), said he fears the legacy bill will have "an insidious impact on all legal cases in the Republic because it could inhibit cross-jurisdictional exchange of information, especially of an intelligence nature".
No-one has ever been convicted of the loyalist attack in the Co Cavan town of Belturbet, when a car bomb exploded outside Farrelly's Bar and McGowan's Drapery on the main street on December 28 1972.
In 2022 Gardaí reopened their investigation after “a number of lines of inquiry” were identified.
Mr Winters said on Tuesday that in June 2023, authorities in the Republic contacted the PSNI, MOD and the PPS "seeking answers to a series of intelligence–led inquiries touching upon matters of national security".
But he said, as of Friday, there has been no response adding that he has now written to all engaged northern agencies "demanding an immediate response".
“We understand Gardai have identified up to 80 issues of an intelligence evidential nature which were submitted to the northern authorities via the Department of Justice," said Mr Winters.
"Gardai have been waiting on a reply since 24/6/23.
"The recently enacted Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act 2023 is now serving to shut down all conflict–related legal cases.
"We are very concerned this doomsday legislation will have an insidious impact on all legal cases in the Republic of Ireland because it could inhibit cross jurisdictional exchange of information especially of an intelligence nature."
Mr Winters said there are fears that the "so-called Legacy Act could seriously undermine cases in the south" with concerns that "failure to exchange critical information with their southern counterparts could impede all unresolved Troubles investigations in the the Republic".
"The Belturbet reinvestigation is now at a critical point and cannot meaningfully progress in the continued absence of a substantive response from northern agencies," he said.
"We have put them on notice today that unless we get a proper reply within 14 days we will take judicial review proceedings in Belfast.
"This prospective legal challenge has additional resonance given last Thursday's comments in the Dail.
"The Tánaiste has indicated that a decision will be made in the next few days on an inter-state challenge against the UK."
The Irish government is currently awaiting legal advice from the Attorney General over whether it should take an interstate case against the UK over the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act.
Opponents of the legislation have argued it will remove access to justice as it offers a conditional amnesty to those accused of killings during the Troubles.
It will also stop any new Troubles-era court cases and inquests being held.
Mr Winters added that they "urge the Irish authorities to take cognisance of the ongoing impasse in the Gardai Belturbet reinvestigation".
"It has now ground to a halt," he said.
"Gardai need the full cooperation of the PSNI and others in the north, but for whatever reason they aren’t getting it.
"Senior Irish politicians are on record as saying that the entire process must have a 'victim centric approach'.
"To that end the families of the murdered children of Belturbet are stuck outside a victim centric approach because UK agencies, for whatever reason, wont send critically important information to the Irish DoJ.
"We call upon the British government to confirm immediately they aren’t hiding behind the Legacy Act as a reason not to respond to the Irish government on Belturbet."