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Alarm grows over inquest delays

While delays over inquests in Northern Ireland have followed a depressingly familiar pattern for a prolonged period, the latest frustrations expressed by the Lord Chief Justice yesterday demand a comprehensive response from our political leaders.

Sir Declan Morgan previously requested £10m in public funding for a five-year programme which would allow the judiciary to address legacy issues dating back 40 years and beyond.

Frustratingly, all the indications are that a more comprehensive package of measures on dealing with the past will have to be agreed across the board before approval can be given to his specific initiative.

It has been widely reported that his proposal was blocked by first minister Arlene Foster, effectively leaving coroner's courts with no viable timetable for their unfinished business.

As inquests involving more than 80 deaths remain to be heard, Sir Declan's belief that only two cases are likely to be completed during the present financial year must be regarded as a major blow to a long list of grieving families.

The backlog may well take decades to clear, meaning that many relatives from all backgrounds of the community who have lost loved ones in contentious circumstances will themselves have died before meaningful progress can be achieved.

There will always be a suspicion that the endless uncertainty over finalising schedules, and the repeated adjournments when hearings actually get under way, suits some vested interests very nicely indeed.

However, a full inquest into a death, when any aspect remains either disputed or unexplained, is not only a legal necessity but a basic human right.

The Lord Chief Justice has offered his assessment of the stalemate and it is up to the main Stormont parties to clarify their position on a matter of enormous public concern.

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