Northern Ireland

Legacy inquests: Families launch legal bid over funding

Image caption The families held up pictures of their dead relatives at a Stormont protest in September

Lawyers for families of more than 30 people killed in some of the most controversial incidents of the Troubles have begun legal action against the Stormont Executive and the government.

It is a bid to force the release of funds for inquests into the deaths.

Northern Ireland's most senior judge has requested funding for a five-year plan to hear all outstanding legacy inquests.

It has been estimated the cost would be at least £10m.

As part of the Fresh Start Agreement, the government pledged £150m for legacy issues.

However, it said the money would not be released until there is a political agreement on how to deal with the past.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan asked for the money that is needed for his plan to be released before an overall agreement is reached.

But the request was blocked by First Minister Arlene Foster.

Two months ago, Sir Declan called for urgent action, and said there is a legal obligation on the government and the Stormont Executive to ensure the inquests are heard.

Lawyers representing the relatives of more than 30 people people killed during the Troubles have now initiated legal action.

They are seeking a judicial review of the refusal to provide the resources needed for the inquests.

The application has been made in the name of the daughter of one of 10 people shot dead by soldiers in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast in 1971.

A hearing has been listed for 14 December.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said there is a legal obligation on the government to ensure the inquests are heard

The lawyers are asking the courts to order the Department of Justice and the office of the First and Deputy First Minister, Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness, to immediately implement the legacy plan.

They are also seeking an order to compel the Northern Ireland Secretary of State to use his legal powers to direct that immediate steps are taken to implement Sir Declan's proposal.

A lawyer for the families, Padraig Ó Muirigh, said the relatives felt they had no option but to go to court.

"This issue shouldn't be dependent upon a political agreement, it's a stand-alone issue," he said.

"We hope that the court directs that action is taken on this.

"These families have waited a very, very long time. There has been an unacceptable delay, their human rights have been breached.

"Going to court was an option of last resort, but we hope with the court's interference that this issue can move forward."

Image caption A lawyer for the families, Padraig Ó Muirigh, said there had been an unacceptable delay

In September, Mr Ó Muirigh handed a letter to an official representing the secretary of state warning that legal action would be launched if funding for the inquests was not released within 14 days.

The Stormont Executive and Department of Justice received similar letters.

But in a statement released at the time, a spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) made it clear that the secretary of state believed it is up to Stormont to resolve the issue.

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