More than half of Troubles inquests outstanding as time runs out amid controversial British legacy plan

‘Vast majority’ will not be heard before cut-off date set as part of UK government’s legacy legislation, families’ solicitor says

Eileen McKeown, daughter of Joseph Corr, killed in the 1971 Ballymurphy massacre, watching then Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis on TV announcing a statute of limitations to bring an end to prosecutions related to the Troubles. Some 46 inquests into the deaths of 79 people are outstanding with less than a year to go to the cut-off date. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty

A total of 46 inquests into the deaths of 79 people during the Troubles are outstanding with less than a year to go to the cut-off date set as part of the UK government’s controversial legacy legislation.

The “vast majority” of those inquests would not be heard in time, said solicitor Pádraig Ó Muirigh, who represents a number of families involved.

According to figures provided to The Irish Times by the lady chief justice’s office, there are 36 outstanding inquests relating to 64 individuals.

These are the remaining cases out of more than 50 inquests involving about 90 deaths that were due to be dealt with as part of a five-year plan initially outlined by the then lord chief justice Declan Morgan in 2016.


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“In addition, there are 10 inquests relating to the deaths of 15 individuals that have been referred this year by the attorney general,” a spokeswoman said.

This week the North’s attorney general, Brenda King, directed that inquests take place into the murders of five Catholic men by loyalist paramilitaries in Co Tyrone between 1988 and 1991 due to “deficiencies” in the original hearings and investigations.

It is one of a number of fresh inquests ordered by Ms King this year, including the decisions in June that inquests be held into the deaths of three Catholic men shot dead in Newry in 1971 in an incident involving British soldiers, and the murder of independent nationalist councillor Patsy Kelly in Co Fermanagh in 1974.

Under the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill – which is expected to become law in September – all Troubles-related inquests that have not been completed by May 2024 will be transferred to the new information recovery body, the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR), which will also take on responsibility for criminal and civil cases and has the power to offer conditional amnesties for perpetrators.

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The Bill is opposed by the North’s five main political parties, victims and human rights groups, the Irish Government, other parties in Ireland and Britain, and internationally. It is supported by veterans’ groups.

Mr Ó Muirigh – who represented the families of some of the 10 victims of the 1971 Ballymurphy massacre at the inquest, which in 2021 found them “entirely innocent” – said “what we have now is moving from a system which worked for families, for example Ballymurphy, to one that doesn’t”.

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He raised a number of concerns over the “quality of evidence and the quality of this process”, including the lack of family participation and the inability of their legal representatives to test the evidence through examination of witnesses.

“There’s a lot of accountability in a court. You can challenge false statements, you can challenge the veracity of a witness’s account. You can come to better evidence because it’s tested.

“All the bad evidence gets exposed, the lies get exposed and you have a process that’s robust,” he said. This new process cannot replicate that, he argued.

“This is a much inferior process… It’s highly questionable whether it’s compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights.”

He said he expected if the legislation were to become law, there would be legal challenges, which “may well end up in Europe” but “this will be a long, protracted process and a lot of these families are quite elderly.

“Witnesses are also dying, and evidential opportunities are being lost literally as we speak,” he said.

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In a statement, a spokesman for the Northern Ireland Office said the UK government’s “primary focus has always been to establish one effective legacy body focused on providing better outcomes for families, while ensuring that organisations such as the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the judiciary are able to focus on contemporary issues.

“Inquests now have until May 1st, 2024, to conclude, ensuring a smooth transition between the conclusion of the current mechanisms and the full establishment of the ICRIR.”

The spokesman said the ICRIR, led by Declan Morgan as chief commissioner, would be supported by “a legislative requirement of full disclosure by state bodies and the power to compel witnesses to comply with its reviews” and would be able to make findings – which would be made public via a report – “in a manner similar to an inquest”.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham is Northern Correspondent of The Irish Times