Families of victims of state killings have announced that they will be suing the British government, DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness as the London and Belfast regimes again stonewalled their demands for legacy inquests.
The move followed a walk out from a meeting on Monday with the new British governor in Ireland, James Brokenshire, of the families of eleven people killed in the 1971 Ballymurphy Massacre. Brokenshire claimed the British government could not afford the costs of holding the inquests.
About fifty inquests are pending but stalled. They relate to almost a hundred deaths, some of them going back four decades.
The next day, they gathered with other families at Stormont to protest against the failure of the British government to comply with its international human rights obligations with respect to legacy inquests, and hand-delivered notice of their legal challenge to the offices of new British Secretary of State. Similar letters were also delivered to the offices of Stormont’s First Minister Arlene Foster, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, and to the Six County Department of Justice.
“How many more secretaries of state do families have to meet before they get justice for their loved ones?” the Ballymurphy Families group group said in a statement following their dramatic walkout.
It was their first meeting since Brokenshire became the Secretary of State and families were hopeful that he would advance their inquests.
They gave an emotional account of what happened to their loved ones in August 1971 after which they asked him directly to intervene and provide funding and resources to allow their inquests to resume.
However, Brokenshire, like his predecessors, simply referred the matter back to the Stormont Executive, and denied the British government was responsible. The families were so angered by his intransigence the walked out, ending the meeting after 45 minutes.”
Speaking afterward, the group’s spokesman, John Teggart, whose father was among ten people shot dead in August 1971, said that the families were disgusted by the minister’s attitude.
“It was a terrible meeting,” he said. “James Brokenshire refused to answer many of our questions and it was just going round and round in circles.
“It was just the same old, same old. The families poured their hearts out about what had happened to their late relatives and were basically pleading for him to release the funding, but it was going nowhere.
“We explained that there is a wide range of families waiting for these inquests and the inquests don’t need litigation. Lord Justice Weir said in January our inquest is ready to and can be started within the year.
Mr Teggart pointed an accusing finger at the Democratic Unionist Party as “representative from the other six parties were at meeting supporting the families.” He said the DUP was blocking the funding from going through the Executive.
Briege Voyle, whose mother was Joan Connolly was fatally shot four times said: “What do we have to do for these people to see sense?
“We need this funding released right away. Campaigners Mary Murphy and Joe Corr have died in the past few weeks. We need our inquests which were granted in 2011 started now, not just for us, but for all the ninety five families. James Brokenshire needs to make that decision now.”
Earlier this month, the North’s most senior judge Sir Declan Morgan called on political leaders to sort out the contentious funding issue for legacy inquests.
His request for ten million pounds to fund a five-year programme that would deal with controversial Troubles’ deaths was blocked by the DUP.
Outstanding inquests into more than 80 deaths that took place during the 30-year conflict have yet to be heard.
SDLP West Belfast MLA, Alex Attwood, said that the British government seemed to be giving the the DUP a “veto” on a legacy issue.
“Victims and survivors, their grief and their needs, should not be subject to a shallow veto,” he said. “If the DUP can veto funding for inquests, they or others could try to do so again and attempt to veto other proposals to achieve truth, justice and accountability. Where would we be then? This cannot be allowed to happen.”
Sinn Fein’s legacy spokeswoman Jennifer McCann said the Ballymurphy families had been “let down”.
“The British government has failed to uphold commitments made in the Stormont House Agreement on how to deal with the legacy of the conflict,” she said.
Nichola Baxter, whose cousin Craig McCausland was killed by loyalist paramilitaries in 2005, said the families were being denied closure.
“I come from a unionist background. We are waiting 11 years for an inquest and therefore a death certificate, simple things that the law says we are entitled to as families,” she said.
“There are answers we’re not getting and it’s the same for everybody here, some people are waiting longer than 11 years and it’s an absolute disgrace.”