‘Justice is dead’: Families gather to protest against UK’s decision to stop Troubles-era inquests

The controversial UK Legacy Act, which removes access to legal redress for the families of those who were unlawfully killed during the 30-year conflict, came into effect on Wednesday

The ending of Troubles-era inquests means “justice is dead”, the grandson of murdered GAA official Seán Brown told a rally on the day a controversial UK law came into effect.

Standing outside the UK government’s Northern Ireland Office (NIO) headquarters in Belfast at lunchtime on Wednesday, Daman Brown was flanked by almost 100 protesters holding banners and photographs of their loved ones killed during the North’s 30-year conflict.

Clutching a microphone, the 35-year-old described the UK Legacy Act as “an obscenity”.

“Its one achievement has been to unite all communities here,” he said.


The inquest into Séan Brown’s killing is one of 38 inquests involving 77 people that have been halted by the new legislation that became operational at midnight on Tuesday.

Mr Brown was locking the gates at Bellaghy Wolfe Tones GAA club in Co Derry in May 1997 when he was abducted and murdered by loyalist paramilitaries.

Daman Brown told The Irish Times he had attended the protest for his grandad and his father (who passed away three years ago).

“My daddy fought so hard for him,” he said.

“It’s heartbreaking seeing all these families here; their lives have turned upside down and they’ve been hit with so many hurdles trying to get justice for their loved ones.

“What the British government is doing is totally wrong. When families do not have access to the court, justice is dead.”

On Wednesday, families granted inquests that in some cases led to landmark rulings – including the 1971 Ballymurphy massacre in which 10 victims were found “entirely innocent” – stood shoulder to shoulder with those continuing to seek justice.

A black coffin with justice emblazoned across it was held aloft surrounded by black-and-white photographs of victims. Under each photograph, innocent was written in block capitals.

A minute’s silence was held for all those who died.

Relatives of the five people killed by the British army in the Springhill/Westrock area of west Belfast in 1972 also took part in the protest; a special coroner’s court sitting on Saturday meant all its evidence could be heard – making it the last Troubles-era inquest to conclude.

“We were euphoric because we got ours finished, but coming here today, you just think of other families who have been unable to achieve that; from the outset all we wanted was an inquest,” says Harry Gargan, who was 12 years of age when his 13-year-old sister Margaret was shot dead.

“We’ll keep supporting these families, we know what they’re going through. We fought for 52 years.

“Our last parent, David McCafferty (who lost his 15-year-old son, David) died just before Christmas, he was 94, that had a very bad effect on us.”

Fiercely opposed by the North’s main political parties, the Irish Government, human rights organisations and members of the legal profession, the UK Legacy Act ended previous methods of investigating the past and transfers responsibility for all Troubles inquiries to a new investigative body, the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR).

Bereaved families, victims and certain public authorities can request the ICRIR to carry out an investigation.

Legal challenges to the new law have been mounted in courts in Belfast and Europe; its most contentious provision, that of a conditional amnesty for perpetrators, is in limbo pending the outcome.

North Belfast MP John Finucane addressed the rally and said it was a “day of shame”.

The Sinn Féin MP was eight years old when loyalist gunmen burst into his family home and fired 14 shots at his father, the solicitor Pat Finucane, in front of him and his siblings in 1989.

His mother was shot once in the attack and survived.

“This is a day when legal challenges in our courts officially come to an end,” he told the crowd.

“Challenges that have been taken by families who on some occasions have been waiting up to five decades for the simple right to ask their questions in a courtroom.

“For the very simple basic democratic right to have an inquest for their loved ones.

“We know the amount of inquests that have not been able to conclude. They haven’t been able to conclude because the British Government and their agencies knew that this day was coming.

“The British Government have today officially removed the independence of our courts in looking at our past.”

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham is Northern Correspondent of The Irish Times