Paramilitaries make up more than one-third of the backlog of Troubles-related deaths in the coroners’ courts, it can be revealed.
Analysis by The News Letter indicates that at least 35 of the 94 dead people on the list of outstanding legacy inquest cases were members of illegal armed groups.
Another six people had paramilitary connections, but seem to have been less closely involved.
Four RUC officers are also on the list. The remainder of the list – 49 names – were civilians, mainly Catholics.
Deeper analysis shows that most of the deaths waiting in the inquest queue relate to killings for which the state has been blamed.
In all, 51 of the 94 fatailities are known or thought to have been killed by either the military or police. Another 25 killings are linked to loyalists, and 17 to republicans.
This has helped contribute to a picture that is virtually a “reversal” of the true pattern of killings during the Troubles, according to victims’ campaigner Ken Funston.
In truth, republicans were behind roughly 60% of all Troubles deaths, loyalists 30%, and the state about 10%.
Mr Funston, of the South East Fermanagh Foundation, said of the list: “When you look at that, as an outsider coming in, you’d say: ‘Well the state obviously are responsible for most killings in Northern Ireland’. That’s the way it could be perceived.”
A lack of funding for legacy inquests has been an ongoing complaint of Sinn Fein.
The 2014 Stormont Castle Agreement (a little-known deal struck by the big five parties ahead of the better known Stormont House Agreement, SHA), estimated that legacy inquests could cost up to £19m annually – and that was when the list of Troubles inquests was probably smaller than now, due to a number of historic cases added since 2014.
The SHA agreed the inquests and other bodies to look at the past, including the Historical Investigations Unit, which unionists hope will principally focus on the 90% of deaths caused by terrorists.
The News Letter has asked the Lord Chief Justice’s Office – responsible for the judiciary – if there is an estimated cost for the inquests into all 94 deaths. It said: “This information is not readily available.”
The disproportionate legacy inquest focus on killings in which the state is alleged to have some responsibility is due to the legal obligation of Article Two of the European Convention of Human Rights .
It seeks to protect life by law (judges have also held that it means probes into killings must be effective and prompt).
Many of the 94 deaths have had previous inquests.
Ken Funston, whose brother was murdered by the IRA in 1984, has not asked for a new inquest, even though the hearing at the time amounted to just “a short hour” in an Enniskillen court, attended only by his mother – and they “didn’t even get a proper verdict”.
He says raising allegations of state collusion in someone’s death, or that a death was not properly investigated, bolsters the chance of a new inquest under Article Two.
Those from a unionist/Protestant background whose loved ones were killed by republicans are less likely to make claims about things such as collusion, said Mr Funston. His brother, Ronnie, was shot in Fermanagh, eight years after leaving the UDR.
Mr Funston thinks it would be hard for him to get a new inquest “because it would not be deemed in the public interest”.
He said: “If we keep adding and adding to the list, it’s going to wear the system down” – and families of innocent victims already in the queue would wait even longer.”
• Despite the fact many cases have been left unfinished for decades – some from the 1980s – a whopping 59 out of the 94 Troubles deaths on the inquest list are re-runs of ones which had already been heard. These 59 deaths have been added to the inquest list since 2010 by Attorney General John Larkin.
Some 37 are killings for which the state is believed to have been responsible. While 22 of those 37 re-visited state killings involve Catholic civilians, 15 concern paramilitaries or people connected to them.
Mr Larkin is sifting through another 28 Troubles cases into which he might order inquests. His office said its practice is not to disclose the reasons for the ones he selects.