Coroner crisis ‘part of republican agenda’ on past

Kenny Donaldson, IVU
Kenny Donaldson, IVU

The ‘refusal’ to replace Northern Ireland’s retiring senior coroner plays into the hands of a republican agenda to discredit the State’s role in the Troubles, a victims campaigner has claimed.

Northern Ireland’s senior coroner John Leckey is due to retire in the autumn but Innocent Victims United spokesman Kenny Donaldson said it was “the belief of many” that the inability of the Department of Justice to appoint a replacement is “one piece of a wider jigsaw which aims to bring about the radically different coronial court system envisaged within the Stormont House Agreement”.

Increased powers in the new system include the power to call anyone to give evidence, more powers to demand official documents and a much wider range of verdicts under Article 2 “right to life” inquests.

He believes that “certain anti-State interest groups and individuals are dictating the process” and added that republicanism is “intent on destroying the state” using the new system, in order to retrospectively justify its “ethnic and sectarian motivated campaign of terror”.

He also pressed political parties in the Executive to explain to victims why they “acceded to the demand of republicans” that the new coronial system should remain independent of the new Historical Investigations Unit.

The Department of Justice responded that there are currently three full-time coroners, including the senior coroner, and that the Justice Minister also recently approved a county court judge to deal with legacy cases.

The assignment of coroners to hear inquests is the responsibility of the senior coroner and will become the responsibility of the Lord Chief Justice when he assumes the presidency of the coroners’ courts, he added.

On Tuesday the sole survivor of the Kingsmills massacre, Alan Black, threatened legal action over the failure to appoint a new coroner to an inquest for the murders. Solicitors say a wide range of legacy cases face similar problems. DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said: “The DUP has always sought to ensure victims have access to justice. At every point we have tried to undo the injustice that victims received under the Belfast Agreement. We want to redefine a the legal term “victim” and ensure it does not equate a terrorist with an innocent victim. We want to ensure there is a light shone on the past both in The UK and the RoI. It has been a long road but justice has no “sell-by date” and we will keep on campaigning for them regardless of who holds the various offices.”