Legacy questions remain as Police Ombudsman pledges to report on deaths of more than 160 people - The Irish News view

There will be inevitable comparisons between the ombudsman’s legacy investigations and the approach of the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery

Alan Lewis - PhotopressBelfast.co.uk               12-4-2024   
The inquests findings were made public  today , (Friday) at Belfast Coroners Court into the murders of ten protestant workmen who were taken off their works minibus and massacred in a hail of bullets on 5/1/1976.         
Original caption follows :          Richard Hughes - catholic workman spared by gunmen in IRA's infamous sectarian  massacre of 10 protestants at Kingsmills, County Armagh.
The Police Ombudsman investigation into the Kingsmill massacre of January 1976 is among those which reached the report phase ahead of the legacy act's May 1 deadline (Alan Lewis - Photopress Belfast/Photopress Belfast)

There will be solace for some Troubles victims and survivors - though only some - in the confirmation that the Police Ombudsman still intends to issue reports into the deaths of more than 160 people.

The killings span 18 investigations into episodes which have cut some of the deepest scars into our past, from the activities of the Glenanne Gang and the Kingsmill massacre to the La Mon Hotel bombing and the murders of RUC officers.

It must be stressed that the ombudsman is only able to proceed to the reporting stage because the investigation phase of these cases had been completed by the arbitrary May 1 deadline imposed by the British government’s dismal legacy act.

From that date, a new body, the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery, was given responsibility for Troubles legacy investigations in the latest stage of the Conservative’s systematic dismantling of the previous - albeit imperfect - system of dealing with the past.

As we have consistently argued, the ideology enshrined in the legislation which underpins the ICRIR is not only deeply problematic but also emblematic of a government with no moral compass.

The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act 2023 ends legacy inquests, for example, and introduces a conditional amnesty for perpetrators. The charlatan Boris Johnson, promoting the legislation in parliament, unashamedly said it was first and foremost conceived to protect British soldiers accused of Troubles-related killings from prosecution. What sort of basis is that for bringing the truth into the light or putting the needs of victims first?

With the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery’s foundations remaining so shaky, the fact that some Police Ombudsman investigations have been able to scrape past the May 1 guillotine will give the findings added impact

Where the ombudsman is concerned, the legacy act means that the office won’t be able to investigate more than 330 Troubles related cases.

The nascent ICRIR is already mired in legal challenges. The Irish government is pursuing an inter-state case at the European Court of Human Rights, and a High Court judge has deemed the legislation’s conditional immunity provisions and the closing down of civil actions as unlawful. Victims’ groups, the north’s political parties and human rights organisations oppose the new arrangements. Shadow secretary of state Hilary Benn insists he will “repeal and replace” the legacy act if Labour comes into power at the next general election.

With the ICRIR’s foundations remaining so shaky, the fact that some ombudsman investigations have scraped past the May 1 guillotine will give the findings added impact.

It should be stressed that Police Ombudsman reports are not a panacea, though they have often been critical in uncovering new information and giving families answers as to what happened to their loved ones.

The ombudsman could take up to a year to deliver her reports. By then, the legacy landscape could have firmly changed once again - and hopefully for the better.