The Irish government has shown it “lacks any serious commitment” towards a key piece of law aimed at helping uncover the truth about legacy murders, a coroner’s court has been told.
At the latest hearing concerning the Kingsmills massacre coroner Brian Sherrard heard claims of new shortcomings from authorities south of the border, as well as the PSNI.
The fresh inquest into the 1976 massacre of 10 Protestant workmen in south Armagh in had been ordered in 2013, but proceedings have stuttered along ever since – held up in large measure by what the victims’ families say is an intransigent attitude from the Republic’s authorities when it comes to providing evidence.
And this was again the theme yesterday at Belfast’s Laganside court complex – just as the taoiseach Leo Varadkar himself was paying a visit to Northern Ireland.
This time much of the focus was on the progress of a proposed law called the Criminal Justice (International cooperation) Bill 2017.
The Irish government announced it was drafting the bill last November, with Simon Coveney (Ireland’s deputy leader) saying it would “provide for increased cooperation by An Garda Siochana with legacy inquests in Northern Ireland, including a number of coronial inquests that are currently underway”.
However Sean Doran, barrister for the Coroners’ Service, yesterday told the court it appears that the bill merely “remains in the form of a bill”, and has not made the journey into becoming law.
It does not appear that “the matter has progressed” since November, he said.
Barrister Alan Kane, representing the bulk of the families, noted that the Dublin government had described the legislation as a “priority”.
“However, it would appear by the actions of the authorities in the Irish Republic that ‘priority’ lacks any serious commitment,” he said.
It is now seven months since the Irish government announced the bill was coming, he said, and “in the meantime, they’ve been able to have a full blown abortion referendum”.
The referendum involves re-writing the entire country’s constitution.
“But this very minor piece of legislation which is of very great significance to people here in Northern Ireland,” he said, “would appear to have been put on the back boiler.”
If there really is a “seriousness of intention” to act on the part of the Irish government, “this legislation should be given the priority we say it deserves”.
In addition, the court was also told the PSNI are not able to definitively say if some of the suspects in the case are alive or dead.
Mr Kane said police information which he had received via the Coroner’s Service said while “there is nothing to suggest” that two suspects – codenamed 8 and 37 – are dead, this was not conclusive.
He said family members are “very disappointed”, and feel there is mere “lip service” being paid to legacy issues.
“For the PSNI to say they’re not sure if someone is dead or not, given their extensive resources, is wholly unacceptable,” he said
The date for the next hearing was set as September 5.