Opinion

Sean Brown inquest delays are entirely unjustified and point to the weakness of new Troubles legacy structures

The Irish News view: It is incredible that the PSNI says it is still discovering material linked to Bellaghy GAA official Mr Brown's murder

Sean Brown (61) was attacked as he locked the gates of Bellaghy Wolfe Tones GAC in May 1997
Sean Brown (61) was attacked as he locked the gates of Bellaghy Wolfe Tones GAC in May 1997 Sean Brown (61) was attacked as he locked the gates of Bellaghy Wolfe Tones GAC in May 1997

One of the more invidious aspects of the British government's almost universally opposed legacy legislation is the requirement that Troubles inquests which have not reached their "final determination, verdict or findings" by May 1 2024 must be stopped.

Cases which have yet to finish by this arbitrary deadline will then fall under the remit of the newly established Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR), though at this stage it is entirely unclear how it intends to progress the various inquests already before the courts.

It is entirely unsurprising, therefore, that those with something to hide are attempt to string out existing proceedings for as long as possible so that they have no realistic prospect of reaching a conclusion by May.

Any measured assessment would find it difficult to put any other gloss on the circumstances around the inquest into GAA official Sean Brown. The PSNI has repeatedly delayed the inquest by dragging its feet over disclosing information, heaping misery upon Mr Brown's 86-year-old widow Bridie; she was unable to attend court last week due to her distress at the latest delay.

Mr Brown (61) was murdered in May 1997 by an LVF gang as he locked the gates of Bellaghy Wolfe Tones GAC in Co Derry. Collusion between the state and loyalist paramilitaries is strongly suspected in the vicious killing, which no-one has ever been charged in connection with.

Former Police Ombudsman Baroness Nuala O'Loan has again spoken of her frustrations around Mr Brown's case.

"I think it's incumbent on the PSNI, and on the coroner's court, to do all they can to provide the inquest to which the Browns are entitled and to do it in a timely way," she says, pointing out that it's nearly 20 years since former chief constable Hugh Orde started gathering material on Mr Brown's murder: "It's unfathomable that nearly 30 years after Sean Brown was murdered they are still recovering material which should have been available previously."

The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act 2023 has itself been cynically conceived by a Conservative administration that has gone out of its way to show a lack of empathy to the people of Northern Ireland, especially those who suffered during the Troubles.

If the ICRIR really had teeth, would there really be such determined efforts to push cases like Mr Brown's in its direction, rather than let the courts reach a verdict?