The coroner for the Kingsmills massacre inquest is considering asking Secretary of State Theresa Villiers to intervene because the Garda have still not released any files about the IRA atrocity after almost a year of requests.
Coroner John Leckey has been writing repeatedly to the Garda for almost a year asking for copies of all files relating to the attack, as it is understood to have been planned and launched from Co Louth.
The IRA shot dead 10 textile workers by the side of a road near Bessbrook in 1976 after flagging down the minibus they were travelling home from work in.
At the preliminary hearing for the inquest at Laganside Courts yesterday, counsel to the inquest Ronan Daly said there was “a meeting with the Garda Siochana in Dublin on November 24 to discuss the issue of disclosure”.
The Garda met legal advisors and the PSNI about the matter on December 8 and the Garda has since written to both the Historical Enquiries Team and PSNI to ask for copies of any Irish police correspondence or files on the subject.
The Garda is also trawling its own files for anything of relevance, he added, and is consulting with the Attorney General in the Republic of Ireland about the legalities of disclosure. But he added that “as of January 21 we are still waiting” for any disclosure.
Mr Leckey responded that “we will wait until the end of this month” and then write a reminder about the request for relevant files. “If there is any impasse I would be minded to write to the Secretary of State,” he added.
Tony McGleenan QC, acting for the PSNI, said that both the Garda and PSNI would want to vet any Republic of Ireland files before disclosure to the inquest, due to national security concerns. He said the PSNI will probably use Public Interest Immunity in relation to some files, a legal mechanism normally used in the UK to protect informers or undercover agents of the state.
Mr Leckey said he hoped to have all the paperwork to consider before Easter but Mr McGleenan said he could foresee “no response” from the Garda by then, to which the coroner replied that his office would then have to “chase them”.
Mr Daly also raised the ongoing application by survivor Alan Black to have legal representation at the inquest, adding that there were concerns about full disclosure of sensitive documents. The coroner confirmed that he has been advised that two suspects in the atrocity have on the run letters. He said he would have to make a ruling on Mr Black’s application which takes into account the sensitive files.
Mr Daly also said the question arose as to whether this should be an Article 2 inquest under the European Convention of Human Rights, which asserts that the individual’s right to life shall be protected by law. If so it could result in the inquest having a much broader scope of inquiry into the murders, but if not it could be much narrower, he said.
However, Neil Rafferty QC, acting for a victim’s family, said they were “implacably opposed to such a limited inquest” and that it was “certainly not what families were led to believe they would get”.
Speaking after the hearing solicitor Kevin Winters, who is acting on behalf of some of the families, also expressed concerns.
He said the inquest should be kept “as wide as possible” and that any attempt to “narrow” it by treating it as a non-Article 2 process could prevent the coroner from examining the original police investigation into the atrocity.
Such a change could also impact on the inquest’s ability to ask questions about the OTR letters given to two suspects in the case, which he described as “a key issue inthe this case”.