In extraordinary comments yesterday, Lord Justice Weir tore into the Ministry of Defence over delays in providing information to the so-called legacy inquests.
“The MoD is not short of money,” the judge was reported as having told a court.
“It’s busy all over the world fighting wars and it’s about to buy some new submarines with nuclear warheads - so it’s not short of money.” He added: “This is obviously very low on their list of priorities.”
The judge went on: “It’s not like buying a new Jeep or getting a new regimental mascot ... This is not an option - this is an international obligation on the state.”
Whether or not the Ministry of Defence has a budget of £45 billion (which it does) or £5 billion or £500 billion is immaterial to these cases.
The amount of money allocated to the UK’s armed forces is a matter for the British government and parliament, as chosen by the public. If the feeling is that that money should be reserved as much as possible for actual defence in these perilous times, rather than – for example – being squandered on legal fees into historic inquests, so be it.
If the MoD is failing to meet its legal obligations then that of course becomes the concern of the court. In the meantime, Downing Street and unionists at Stormont must urgently address what is happening with these inquests, and ensure as much as possible that information releases are controlled to protect the security of the state.
Police and MoD concerns about the burden of these inquests must be addressed – and not by handing out money, but by trying to get a grip on the hearings, their timescale and their context.
There is indeed an international obligation to hold inquests into killings in which the state is involved. But that must not be used to give preferential treatment to certain victims when the largest number of victims was murdered by paramilitaries.
Apologists for terror plan to use these inquests to legitimise the IRA. Unionists and the Conservative government must work hard to minimise the distortion of the past.