The ruling in the High Court in Belfast yesterday on the bid for an inquest into the Loughgall killings in 1987 is one of the most significant developments to date on the legacy of the Troubles.
Sir Paul Girvan’s judgement ran to many pages, and it will take some time to digest its implications.
In summary, he found that Arlene Foster, the DUP leader and then first minister, was wrong to take into account the absence of an overall agreed package to deal with legacy when she rejected funding for the inquests.
A likely consequence of the finding is a scenario that this column highlighted yesterday: that the legacy inquests will proceed without a clear understanding of how many inquests there will ultimately be and how much they will cost.
The inquests have to happen, we have been told by a host of different voices and experts, because governments must hold investigations into deaths at the hands of state forces that are compliant with Article Two of the European Convention on Human Rights.
This is so, but there are also lawyers who say that the obligation under Article Two can be met via investigations that fall short of separate inquests. The said inquests might cost as much as £1 million per hearing.
This then raises a serious question of proportionality, given that there are 1,000+ unsolved killings from the Troubles, most of which were at the hands of terrorists.
The government might well be so spooked by yesterday’s hearing that it simply releases the money. It seems that the DUP and Conservatives were already inclined to do that.
If, however, this leads to a situation in which dozens of terrorists killed by the state (an investigation by this newspaper found that around 40 of the 90+ inquest dead were terrorists) ultimately get a greater level of funding and scrutiny than the funding and scrutiny allocated to those that they and their terror groups murdered, it will be a grave injustice for which those who approve funding will one day have to account.