A lawyer acting for families of the Kingsmills massacre victims has accused the southern authorities of “throwing up legal mechanisms” to prevent cooperation with the legacy inquest into the IRA attack.
Ten Protestant workmen were murdered by the IRA as they travelled home from work at Kingsmills in south Armagh in 1976.
At a preliminary hearing for the inquest on Thursday, Sean Doran QC for the coroner said that they had met with the Republic of Ireland’s chief state solicitor on March 29 in Dublin to discuss the legal problems around supplying security information and An Garda Siochana (AGS) witnesses to the inquest in Belfast.
As Alan Kane QC for the families pointed out, the getaway vehicle was hijacked in the south, the killers fled there, weapons were recovered there and suspects resided there.
Mr Doran said he had been briefed in Dublin that the Garda commissioner does not currently have the legal authority to direct AGS officers to attend legal proceedings outside the Republic of Ireland, but that legislation is being “considered” to resolve the issue. The families had previously voiced their disappointment at the nature of the information released to date, he added.
But Fiona Doherty QC, acting for the families, questioned those who said they were considering new legislation to resolve the problems.
“There seems to be a serious disconnect here between what is being expressed as noble and absolute political will to assist this inquest and the legal mechanisms that are being thrown up to prevent that from happening,” she said.
Mr Doran and the coroner, Judge Brian Sherrard, discussed how long new legislation might take and what impact it might have on the timetable of the inquest, due to open again in May.
However, Mr Kane asked that requests for voluntary AGS witnesses and fresh southern legislation be progressed in tandem, to which Mr Sherrard agreed.
Mr Doran, however, noted that Mr Sherrard had already requested a voluntary witness in February 2015, which had prompted the Dublin government to begin the process in which it is now engaged. Mr Sherrard agreed but requested a volunteer be requested once again.
Mr Kane said that although legislation might not be in place to force an AGS officer to cooperate, that would not stop one doing so.
“It would be common humanity,” he said. “That does not require formal legislation.”
He noted that the PSNI had sent officers to the Smithwick Tribunal on IRA collusion in Dublin on a voluntary basis, without specific legislation.
Mr Seamus McIlroy, acting for the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, also noted that his investigators had appeared at a number of inquests in the Republic of Ireland.
In closing, Mr Kane also raised the issue of dead suspects being identified in court. Mr Sherrard said he was open minded on the matter and that this had been done at the conclusion of other hearings.
The next preliminary hearing is on April 27.