An inquest into the deaths that resulted from the crime against humanity at Kingsmills in 1976 got under way yesterday.
The families have waited a long time for this moment.
The hearing began with harrowing testimony from the sole survivor of the IRA sectarian massacre, Alan Black, who recounted the deafening noise of gunfire as terrorists killed 10 Protestant workmen, after ordering a Catholic man to flee.
The inquest is set to last for perhaps five weeks. Mr Black said yesterday that he wanted the “unvarnished truth”.
That, unfortunately, is not likely to be forthcoming.
The IRA does not even admit that it carried out the atrocity. The Historical Enquiries Team, however, found that the republican terror group was indeed behind the attack, despite being on supposed ceasefire at the time.
There have been allegations against the state in this case, and that is one of the reasons the inquest has been held.
There is a particular onus on the authorities under Article Two of the European Convention on Human Rights to hold investigations into deaths where the state is deemed not to have protected life. Republicans are well aware of this onus, and intend to exploit it fully in the coming inquests, by implying that the British state was murderous.
But regardless of republican intentions, no-one should doubt that the coroner’s court will do its utmost to discharge its responsibilities into this inquest, that was ordered by Northern Ireland’s Attorney General John Larkin QC. Concerns about the implications of the overall coming legacy inquests are for another day. The main thing that we can hope for in this case is that the hearings assist the families, who have had 40 years of agony, to find out more about what happened.
An inquest is not a tribunal into criminal culpability and the likelihood of any justice against the culprits is slim, given the dishonesty of terrorists. But if light is shed on the truth behind the massacre, something will have been achieved.