Victims of the conflict in the north of Ireland have directly accused the British government of a “shameful failure” to address the need for truth and justice.
Groups representing more than 150 bereaved families published an open letter to denounce the dropping of new investigative and truth recovery mechanisms from the ‘Fresh Start’ political deal struck last month.
New mechanisms for tackling the past had been agreed by politicians last year in the Stormont House Agreement, but the latest agreement between Sinn Fein, the DUP, and the Tory government in London saw the issue put on the back-burner.
The root of the impasse is the British government’s insistence on retaining a veto, on ‘national security’ grounds, over disclosing certain historic documents on the conflict.
The letter accused British Direct Ruler Theresa Villiers of “waiting for us to die off, but we will not go away”, adding: “All bereaved families have a right to truth, and to have their proposals to achieve that right, respected. These are rights not privileges.”
It was published jointly by the Pat Finucane Centre and Justice for the Forgotten. They said it was a “sign of the anger, frustration and bitter disappointment felt by over 150 bereaved families at the abject failure of the politicians and British Government to implement the legacy proposals set out in the Stormont House Agreement”.
“It is completely unacceptable that no process has yet been established in which families can have confidence.”
They pointed out that the British government is in ongoing violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.
“This breach is intolerable and calls into question public confidence in the credibility of the other institutions set up by the Good Friday Agreement.”
QUESTIONS ‘MUST BE ANSWERED’
The nephew of a Catholic man stabbed to death by the British army more than 40 years ago was one of the family members who signed the letter.
James Naan said the death of his uncle Michael has never been fully explained. He and a neighbour Andrew Murray were stabbed to death by members of a British army foot patrol near Newtownbutler in October 1972.
The deaths later became known as ‘the pitchfork killings’. He said the family has never been told which doctor pronounced the men dead and if an inquest was held.
“It certainly has hung over me for years,” he said. “From time to time questions are coming up that need to be answered and should be answered.”
TIP OF THE ICEBERG
Paul O’Connor from the PFC said: “Further action in support of the right to truth is being planned, including a possible full-page ad in a British daily newspaper. We would be keen to hear from families and NGOs who support these views.”
The groups said the anger and hurt is the “tip of a very large iceberg”, but that the impasse is not insolvable.
“With goodwill, common sense and respect for international legal standards, the legitimate wish of families to the truth they so earnestly desire, and deserve, can be achieved.
“They, and we, appeal to every concerned member of the public - and all politicians - to renew their efforts to reach agreement on how to investigate the past. Now is the time to set the truth free.”
Meanwhile, there are currently 56 historic inquests being delayed in the coroners’ courts. The family of one west Belfast man, Gerard Slane, were told this week it could take almost ten years for an inquest to be heard.
Also this week, it emerged that secret security documents which could provide vital evidence in unsolved cases from the conflict had not been protected from destruction. Some of the documentation could have great legal significance in murder investigations going back over 40 years.
Annette McGavigan was shot dead in Derry in 1971 by a British soldier. Last year the McGavigans took the British government to court, and it was during those proceedings that it was revealed a preservation Order had not been issued. The documents have still not been released, without explanation.
Annette’s brother Martin said: “It is frustrating, very frustrating. You feel as if you are banging your head off a wall at times, you’re getting no answers but we will keep doing it.”
There is also a new focus on foot-dragging on truth and justice issues by the coalition government in Dublin, which has been refusing to deliver investigations in tandem with the administrations in Belfast and London.
This week, the family of a forestry worker murdered by off-duty British soldiers in County Louth took their campaign for justice to the Dublin parliament.
Relatives of Seamus Ludlow are demanding the coalition government establish an inquiry into his death, as recommended following the judge-led Barron investigation a decade ago.
After Thursday’s visit to Leinster House, the family issued a statement: “Our determination for this struggle is far from waning. It is undiminished by the years of lies, cover-up and false hopes, and is strengthened now by the involvement and commitment of our younger generations who are also burning for a final positive conclusion after four decades of despair.
“Nobody is being held to account and nobody in either government appears to care. The many years of state and political indifference have not quenched our family’s desire for a final just conclusion for an innocent victim, and his remaining siblings, who have been treated disgracefully will not rest until that just conclusion is realised.
“As a family we stand here today no longer going to sit back and wait for politicians to deliver us nothing.”