Relatives of those killed in Troubles to challenge UK legacy proposals in UN address

Families of civilians killed by the British Army in Ballymurphy learn human tissue samples retained without consent

Briege Voyle, whose mother Joan Connolly was one of ten civilians killed by soldiers in west Belfast in 1971 with her sisters Joan, Philomena and Irene, voice their distress after learning tissue samples from their mother were retained without their knowledge or consent. Photograph: PA

Briege Voyle, whose mother Joan Connolly was one of ten civilians killed by soldiers in west Belfast in 1971 with her sisters Joan, Philomena and Irene, voice their distress after learning tissue samples from their mother were retained without their knowledge or consent. Photograph: PA

 

Relatives of those killed in the Troubles are to challenge the UK government’s new legacy proposals in an address to the United Nations on Thursday.

They will make a statement along with Amnesty International to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Grainne Teggart, Northern Ireland campaigns manager for Amnesty UK, said they would “collectively call on the UN Human Rights Council to challenge the UK Government’s plans to shield perpetrators of abuses and permanently deny justice to all ‘Troubles’ victims.

“We cannot allow those responsible for murder, torture and other grave human rights violations to be placed above the law and beyond accountability.

“This blueprint for writing-off conflict related violations not only breaches the UK’s international and domestic human rights obligations, but unduly interferes in our justice system and undermines the rule of law. It sets a very dangerous precedent.

“The UK Government’s proposals are an utter betrayal of victims and must not become law,” she said.

The statement will be delivered during an interactive meeting involving UN special rapporteur on truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence Fabian Salvioli.

Mr Salvioli and his colleague, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Morris Tidball-Binz, have already expressed serious concerns about the UK government’s plan.

In July the Northern Secretary, Brandon Lewis, published a Command Paper outlining proposals to introduce a “statute of limitations” which would ban all police investigations into Troubles-related incidents and end prosecutions. There would also be a bar on legacy inquests and civil cases.

This would bring “an immediate end to the divisive cycle of criminal investigations and prosecutions, which is not working for anyone and has kept Northern Ireland hamstrung by its past,” the UK government said.

The plans are opposed by victims groups, the main political parties North and South, the Irish government and prominent Irish-American politicians and diplomats.

On Wednesday Ulster Human Rights Watch wrote to the Irish and British governments urging a re-think, saying that the British government’s proposals are “unnecessary and unreliable” and “victims of terrorism view them as ‘totally unacceptable’.”

Meanwhile the family of a man shot dead by the British Army in Derry 50 years ago has written to the Bar Council of England and Wales to express their “grave concern” at the UK government’s legacy proposals.

A vigil in memory of William McGreanery took place in Derry on Wednesday night to mark the 50th anniversary of his killing.

In their letter, Mr McGreanery’s nephew Billy and niece Marjory Roddy said that Mr Lewis, a member of the Inner Temple, was “seeking to drive a coach and horses through the most fundamental right of all citizens - the right to seek expert legal advice and to then have access to the courts to seek redress.”

“We are appealing to the Bar Council to respond to this unprecedented attack on the rights of victims to have access to justice,” they said.

Separately the families of civilians killed by the British Army in Ballymurphy in west Belfast in August 1971 are seeking meetings with the Northern Ireland Court Service (CSNI) and the state pathology department after it emerged that human tissue samples were retained following post-mortems without the consent or knowledge of their next-of-kin.

It emerged on Wednesday that samples relating to four people were retained while an organ relating to a fifth was kept and later disposed of.

Those affected were Frank Quinn, Joseph Corr, Joan Connolly, John McKerr and Joseph Murphy.

Mrs Connolly’s daughter Briege Voyle said three samples from her heart were retained. “We are gutted, we just can’t believe that to spend over 100 days in court [during the recent inquest) and 50 years later they just found these parts,” she said.

“This isn’t right, our mummy’s heart, my mummy was shot in the head, there was no reason to take anything of my mummy’s heart.

“We believed my mummy’s heart was with her fully when she was buried, now we are left with three pieces of her heart, it is not right. I just feel so betrayed.

Solicitor Padraig O Muirigh said his clients had been unaware of retention of their loved ones’ tissue samples and organ and this had “caused them considerable anger and distress.

“It has also raised many concerns and questions which remain unanswered,” he said.

“It is imperative that the families are provided with a prompt and adequate explanation to the issues raised by us in the correspondence to CSNI and the State Pathology Department.”

Additional reporting - PA.