Northern Ireland

The Troubles: Inquests judge challenges MoD over 'resource pressures' claims

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Media captionIn response to claims that the MoD could not resource legacy cases, Lord Justice Weir said the MoD was not short of money as it was fighting wars across the world

A senior judge has challenged claims the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is not able to properly resource its work on some inquests into Troubles deaths in Northern Ireland.

A two-week review into 56 legacy cases began last week.

Many of the delayed investigations involve killings linked to the security forces.

Lord Justice Weir said the MoD was not short of money as they were fighting wars across the world.

The cases involve 95 deaths where inquests have still to be heard.

These include some of the most controversial killings during the Troubles.

The judge made his comments when he was told the reason the MoD had missed deadlines for disclosing classified papers to the coroners' courts was due to resource pressures.

Image caption The review is taking place at the Laganside Courts complex in Belfast

"The MoD is not short of money," he said.

"It's busy all over the world fighting wars and it's about to buy some new submarines with nuclear warheads - so it's not short of money."

He added: "This is obviously very low on their list of priorities."

'Obligation'

The judge was examining the shooting dead of Belfast father-of-six Patrick McVeigh by a covert army unit, the Military Reaction Force, in 1972.

He also examined the cases of seven IRA men shot by the SAS in two separate ambushes in the early 1990s.

In the case of IRA men Kevin Barry O'Donnell, Sean O'Farrell, Patrick Vincent and Peter Clancy, who were killed by the SAS in Clonoe, County Tyrone, in 1992, the judge was told the MoD still had not disclosed documents to the court - more than a year after committing to do so.

The MoD also faced criticism for its handling of the stalled inquest for IRA men Michael "Peter" Ryan, Anthony Doris and Laurence McNally, who were killed by the SAS in Coagh, County Tyrone, in June 1991.

Lord Justice Weir stressed that the holding of investigations was not "optional".

"It's not like buying a new Jeep or getting a new regimental mascot," he said.

"This is not an option - this is an international obligation on the state."

He said the MoD argument that it was under resource pressure raised questions over the government's commitment to its obligations under international human rights laws.

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