Families shut out of inquiries announcement

The announcement by the British government of the terms of three inquiries into collusion in the North of Ireland has been met with concern.

After campaigns lasting several years, the timing of the announcement, and the failure to consult with the families, was being questioned.

Maggie Beirne, of the Committee on the Administration of Justice, a human rights watchdog, said her organisation “was quite concerned that the Northern Ireland Office has promised the families they would meet the chair of the relevant inquiry” but that this had not happened.

Jane Winter of British-Irish Rights Watch also questioned the announcement. “The terms of reference are not as good as they should be,” she said. The delays involved since Judge Cory completed his reports (calling for inquiries) were alarming, she added.

The families are still consulting with legal advisors and have not yet made an announcement.

A number of senior British establishment figures were put in charge of the inquiries.

Sir Michael Morland, a retired member of the High Court who controversially advocated internment and other repressive legislation, will chair the investigation into the murder of Lurgan human rights lawyer Rosemary Nelson.

Mrs Nelson was killed when a bomb exploded under her car outside her home in March 1999, after she received death threats from the police.

The other panel members will be Sir Anthony Burden, former Chief Constable of South Wales Police and Dame Valerie Strachan, Vice Chair of the Big Lottery Fund and former Chairman of the Board of Custom and Excise.

Lord MacLean of the Court of Session of Scotland will be in charge of the inquiry into the murder of LVF leader Billy Wright.

Wright was shot dead by members of the Irish National Liberation Army inside Long Kesh prison in December 1997.

The panel will also include Professor Andrew Coyle, Director of the International Centre for Prisons Studies at King`s College, London and the Right Reverend John Oliver, retired diocesan Bishop of Hereford.

Sir Edwin Jowitt, a retired member of the High Court of England and Wales will head up the inquiry into the murder of Robert Hamill, a Catholic man kicked to death by loyalists in front of a police unit in Portadown, County Armagh in April 1997.

Sir Edwin will be joined on the inquiry panel by Sir John Evans, former Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall and Reverend Baroness Richardson of Calow, former Moderator of the Free Churches’ Council of England and Wales.

The British government has confirmed it will also hold an inquiry into the murder of Mr Finucane who was shot dead by British agents in February 1989.

The SDLP’s Alex Attwood said the British government should have had included an international element in all the inquiries. It was worrying that all of the members of the Nelson inquiry had been “servants of the state” and that one was “involved in a government-appointed review that favoured emergency laws”.

Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly said: “The British government needs to deliver on these inquiries. We must also see the terms of reference into an inquiry into Pat Finucane’s death published immediately.”

He added: “The announcement that Michael Morland will be chairing the Rosemary Nelson inquiry will not inspire confidence given his involvement acting for the Crown in internment without trial cases in 1973. Mr Morland was also involved in 1976 with the Gardiner commission which removed special category status for prisoners and introduced the criminalisation policy.

“These families have campaigned for many years for the establishment of independent inquires into the deaths of their loved ones. It is important that the inquiries announced today meet the demands of the families and achieve the confidence of the community. That will ultimately be the test against which they are examined.”

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© 2004 Irish Republican News