Foster ‘in error’ to withhold legacy inquest cash

Arlene Foster
Arlene Foster

Former Stormont first minister Arlene Foster mistakenly deferred a bid for extra funding for inquests into historic killings in Northern Ireland, a judge said.

She erroneously believed the £150 million earmarked by the British Government as part of the Stormont House Agreement should await the outcome of an overall package dealing with all legacy issues, Belfast High Court judge Sir Paul Girvan added.

He said more work was needed before the Treasury could approve the proposal and cautioned unlimited public funds were not available.

The judge said the obligation on the state to investigate deaths during the conflict remained whether or not devolved Government was restored.

He said: “She (Arlene Foster) was in error in concluding that it was legally proper to defer consideration of the funding issue because in the absence of an overall package the provision of additional funds to deal with the systemic delays in the legacy inquests would favour victims who were not innocent as against innocent victims of the Troubles.”

He said Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley was responsible for overseeing the functioning of Government and added there was a political vacuum.

He said: “The relevant parties must reconsider the question of the provision of additional funding in light of the fact that finding a resolution of the funding issue cannot be postponed until an outcome to a political agreement on other legacy issues.”

Brigid Hughes challenged ongoing failure by the Executive Office at Stormont, the Justice Department and the Northern Ireland Secretary to put in place adequate funding to prevent further delays in holding legacy inquests.

Her husband Anthony died in May 1987 when he was innocently caught in crossfire between soldiers and the IRA as republicans attacked Loughgall police station in Co Armagh.

It is one of 54 inquests into 94 deaths for which Northern Ireland’s Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan has sought additional funding to complete within five years.

Mrs Hughes said: “I am very pleased that things have worked out today the way they have but they have taken a very long time.”