Northern Ireland

Strict timetable needed to ensure Dillon inquest goes ahead, court hears

Martina Dillon’s husband Seamus was shot dead in 1997 (Liam McBurney/PA)
Martina Dillon’s husband Seamus was shot dead in 1997 (Liam McBurney/PA) Martina Dillon’s husband Seamus was shot dead in 1997 (Liam McBurney/PA)

All parties much work to a “much stricter timetable” in order to ensure that a legacy inquest into the loyalist shooting of a nightclub doorman goes ahead in April, a coroner has said.

Coroner Richard Greene made the comments as a PSNI barrister said a timetable for completing a Public Interest Immunity (PII) process ahead of the inquest into the death of Seamus Dillon commencing could not be shortened.

The former republican prisoner was gunned down by the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) outside the Glengannon Hotel in Dungannon in 1997.

The shooting was seen as a revenge attack following the murder of LVF leader Billy Wright in the Maze prison hours earlier.

The inquest for the 45-year-old father-of-three is due to commence on April 8.

Ulster Dillon funeral 3
Ulster Dillon funeral 3 The funeral of Seamus Dillon in 1997 (John Giles/PA)

However, the proceedings are taking place against the backdrop of the Government’s new Legacy Act, which states that any legacy inquests that have not reached the point of verdict by May 1 2024 will be discontinued.

Ahead of the inquest beginning, material relating to the murder must be security-vetted and distributed to the legal parties involved.

A separate hearing will be needed to consider any applications made by police or the security services to redact evidence on PII grounds.

At a preliminary hearing, barrister for the PSNI Joanne Hannigan KC said a timetable for the PII process could not commence until a separate issue with the papers was resolved.

She said the PSNI had then given a timetable of 17 weeks for the process of preparing for the PII hearing.

She said: “I am told that is a relatively tight timescale and that we can’t see any way to shorten that.”

A barrister for the Dillon family said the submissions on behalf of the PSNI were “very disappointing”.

He added: “The stance taken by the state parties is that until it is all available, the process, the work of the lawyers, can’t even be commenced.

“If that is the position, my submission would be that that is not the correct approach, particularly given the pressures at the moment.”

Coroner Greene set a date of March 6 and 7 for the PII hearings.

He said: “In an ideal world that would be many, many weeks in advance of the (inquest) hearing.

“I think next of kin appreciate that is not a practical or a feasible achievable outcome.

“Everyone is just simply going to have to work to a much stricter timetable.”

Ms Hannigan said: “Your honour is setting a timetable which is outwith our estimate.

“I am conscious that the timetable we had provided was the best that could be achieved.

“I just flag that there may be issues with adhering to that though best efforts will be made.”

The coroner said he would review the case again on December 13.

Mr Dillon’s widow Martina has brought a legal case against the Government’s new Legacy Act, which is currently being heard in the High Court in Belfast.