Investigations into the police handling of atrocities such as the Enniskillen and La Mon bombings and the actions of the Shankill Butchers are being delayed because of underfunding, the North's Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire has complained.
Dr Maguire in his annual report warned that reductions in funding could be a “back-door” mechanism to limit his office’s ability to inquire into how the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the PSNI investigated Troubles-related killings.
“A further cycle of funding reductions will lead to a decrease in the service provided by the office. This means an inability to conduct timely investigations, including investigations into serious criminality by police officers,” he said.
“There is a potential it will also reshape the functions of the office by the back door by undermining our ability to deal with all public complaints against the police. This situation cannot be permitted to continue.”
Dr Maguire’s remit is to investigate allegations against the police. This includes inquiring into high-profile historic incidents.
On Sunday his spokesman said Police Ombudsman police-linked inquiries into the Glennane Gang, a group of UVF, Ulster Defence Regiment and RUC officers allegedly involved in up to 120 killings during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, is continuing.
Under current funding, inquiries into the 1976 Kingsmill Massacre in which the IRA in south Armagh killed 10 Protestant workmen, and into the 1992 Graham’s bookmakers UDA attack in which five Catholics were killed, were also progressing.
A number of police-linked inquiries, however, into major incidents were being delayed because of the funding problem, said the spokesman.
These included, he said, the IRA La Mon House Hotel bombing of 1978 in which 12 people were killed; the 1987 IRA Enniskillen bombing which ultimately claimed 12 lives; the 1993 IRA Shankill bombing in which 10 people were killed; and the Shankill Butchers who, operating between 1975 and 1982, killed at least 23 people, most of them Catholics.
“These cases will get done but they won’t be progressed in the near future,” said the spokesman. “There has always been a struggle to match the demands for this work with the funds made available to deliver it.”
In his report Dr Maguire said the progress made on the completion of historical cases remained “unacceptably slow”.
“The budget for history cases in 2016/17 was £1,943,000 to deal with nearly 400 cases, the majority of which involve murders,” he said.
Dr Maguire said this compared "very unfavourably" with the £35 million budget provided to Jon Boutcher, chief constable of Bedfordshire Police, to investigate the activities of agent "Stakeknife", Freddie Scappaticci, who while in the IRA may have been involved in 30 or more murders.
A Department of Justice spokesman said the department recognised and continued to support the “important work of the Office of Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland”.