Bronagh Munro investigates the political fight over funds that would speed up the process of getting families answers over the Troubles killings of their loved ones.
Browse content similar to 11/10/2016. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
This is what a Fresh Start looks like.
The DUP and Sinn Fein are enjoying a new spirit of co-operation.
But outside Stormont, an old problem is threatening the new consensus.
What happened on Monday when you spoke to the Secretary of State?
'Over the last few months I've been meeting people who lost relatives
'in some of the Troubles' most controversial killings.'
In any other democratic society we wouldn't be standing here.
We shouldn't have to be standing here
to plead for our inquest to be opened.
They're waiting for inquests -
legal hearings that will determine how their loved ones died
and, in some cases, who is responsible.
But there's a huge backlog.
Northern Ireland's most senior judge has a plan to break that backlog
and clear all the cases within five years.
This opportunity simply must not be squandered.
But the plan has stalled
because there's a row about who will pay for it.
The First Minister has blocked the Executive
from even considering the plan.
I will not allow any process to rewrite the past of
what happened in Northern Ireland.
But it's the government, rather than the DUP,
that Sinn Fein seem to blame for the hold-up.
The responsibility for denying the Lord Chief Justice the funding
lies fairly and squarely at the door of the British government.
So what happens to the families still waiting?
-Hello, how are you?
-All right, how are you?
Good, how are you? Did you have a good, safe trip?
'It's been years since Jimmy O'Kane was last back in Northern Ireland.'
Today he's flown back to Belfast. But it's not a happy homecoming.
Last two days, I haven't had much sleep.
You can't sleep. It's always in your mind.
Jimmy left Northern Ireland in the 1970s.
A few years later, his big sister Rosaleen died
in a suspicious house fire.
Now he wants answers about what happened to the woman
he considered a second mother.
Rosaleen done everything for us.
She was quiet but fun-loving.
Come the weekend, the Saturday night, it had to be the dance.
And Sunday would be her chapel day.
Jimmy takes me to the church in Sailortown, near Belfast docks,
where Rosaleen came to pray.
Can you remember the last time you were here?
Must be at least 20, well over.
Oh, what a shame.
You all right?
HE EXHALES SHAKILY
Do you remember her being in here?
Yes, I do. I used to leave her down sometimes.
She was happy here.
She found her happiness here.
What are you looking for, Jimmy?
I want justice, that's what I want.
-I want my sister to rest in peace.
In 1976, Rosaleen was 33 years old, single and working as a waitress.
She was a devout Catholic
but she was the child of a mixed marriage.
Shortly before her death,
she moved to a mainly loyalist part of north Belfast,
into an area known as the "murder triangle".
-Since the beginning of this year,
52 people have died violently.
In a vicious campaign of civilian assassinations,
30 Catholics and 19 Protestants have been killed.
In the early hours of 17 September, a neighbour spotted a fire
in Rosaleen's flat, and raised the alarm.
Rosaleen's body was found inside, naked and badly burned.
Rosaleen had moved house before the fire
due to a petrol bomb attack.
Despite this, the police initially believed
she had deliberately set fire to the flat herself.
At the inquest, police failed to put vital evidence
in front of the coroner
and her death was put down as an unsolved mystery.
Back then, Jimmy didn't know
there were deeper suspicions about Rosaleen's death
and that there were grounds for believing she had been murdered.
-It's all changed.
These certainly weren't here at the time.
This is Cliftonpark Avenue.
This is where Rosaleen's house was.
Whereabouts would Rosaleen's house have been?
These are all new now, right,
and we think her house, her flat, was in this location,
somewhere down along this block.
What were you told happened that night, Jimmy?
Well, I was told what happened, originally in 1976,
that Rosaleen had hung clothes up to dry above the stove
and they caught fire.
that was it. She burned to death.
But as Jimmy later discovered from the original inquest papers,
there wasn't just one fire.
From the papers I was learning that there was three fires set -
one under the bed,
one behind a sofa in the sitting room and one under the stove.
Multiple fires had been deliberately started in the flat
and the pathologist who conducted Rosaleen's autopsy
made a startling discovery.
Chris McCann is the O'Kanes' solicitor.
Typically when somebody dies as a result of house fire,
or fire, they will have soot in their airways,
there will be carbon monoxide in their blood.
The autopsy revealed that there were none of those.
So Rosaleen may have been dead before the fires even started.
You won't find Rosaleen's name on any list of victims
of the Troubles.
Her family think she was a victim of a sectarian murder
which was overlooked because
the police didn't present vital evidence to the inquest.
They've applied to the Attorney General to overturn
the original inquest findings and order a new one.
Why do you think a second inquest is required in this case?
The original inquest, we would say the finding is invalid,
because we have since found out that in 1976 a man was interviewed
under caution in respect of Rosaleen O'Kane's death.
He at that stage named three other individuals who may or may not
have been involved in her death.
He gave the names of those individuals to the police.
Certainly that is something that the Coroner should have had sight of
at the time of the inquest in 1977.
In 2002, and again in 2011,
police informed the family these individuals were still alive
but they hadn't been questioned.
The police told us they have a huge number of deaths to review
with finite resources.
Do you think if you got a new inquest it would help you?
Yes, it would. A new inquest would open all the doors.
It's taken families years and years in pain and heartache,
just to get halfway where they're getting. You know? It's...
It's wrong, and as a society and a country,
you can't move on unless you face the past.
Almost 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement,
dealing with the past is still a problem.
For many, police investigations and the Historical Enquiries Team
did not deliver all the answers.
And despite the recent political promise of a Fresh Start,
disagreement over how to deal with the past continues.
Now, some families see the Coroner's Court
as the only place they will get answers.
Recent changes to the way in which inquests work
have offered families a way forward.
Dr Catherine Turner is a law lecturer who has written
about ways to deal with the past.
Since the Human Rights Act has come into effect,
there's a greater emphasis now
on not just how they died,
but also on the circumstances leading to that death
and the attribution of responsibility as well,
who's responsible for the death.
If you imagine the family of somebody who was shot,
for example, or allegedly shot by a British soldier,
a traditional inquest isn't going to provide very much
extra information for them.
Really what they want to know is much more about the circumstances
of who planned the operation,
were all measures taken to protect the life of that person?
Could they have been arrested rather than being shot in the first place?
And these are questions now that the Coroner,
in the course of the inquest, has the power to investigate
where previously he wouldn't have had.
Leading lawyer Michael Mansfield
believes an inquest needs to be opened
into the deaths of ten people shot by the Army in Ballymurphy in 1971.
He says that the changes have placed families
at the heart of the process.
Obviously they want the truth about what happened.
They want it on record and they want accountability. They all want that,
but they also want -
and they're all united in this, whatever their backgrounds -
they want to change the system. They want to ensure that
the system that has allowed these atrocities in the first place
does not occur again.
With blame at stake,
the past in Northern Ireland is very much in the present.
But progress has been slow -
only one or two inquests can be heard a year,
meaning families have had to wait decades.
Controversial killings have turned into extended battles over evidence.
And that means some of the inquest backlog goes back 40 years,
and includes some of the most well-known episodes of the Troubles,
like Ballymurphy, Kingsmills, and Loughgall.
Now, more than 50 cases, involving 98 deaths,
are still waiting to be heard.
To address this delay,
the Lord Chief Justice decided to overhaul the inquest system.
There does remain a window of opportunity
to deal with this crucially important issue
and, indeed, to map a way forward
on all aspects of dealing with the past.
This opportunity simply must not be squandered.
Sir Declan Morgan ordered a review into the outstanding legacy cases
and to identify the reasons for delay.
During the course of the review, it became obvious
that there was a common problem across many of the cases -
both the MoD and the police were often slow about releasing evidence.
Daniel Holder is a human rights campaigner.
This has been going on for years.
Numerous excuses and obstacles have been put in the place
of inquests taking place.
Now, largely these relate to the failure of key state agencies,
the military, the police etc,
to disclose documents and records in a timely fashion.
The Ministry of Defence and the police told the review
many of the delays were the result of a lack of resources.
The review was critical of this explanation.
The murder of GAA man Sean Brown
is a case that shows the problems with disclosure.
The chairman of the Bellaghy Football Club was abducted
by the LVF as he locked up the club one night in May 1997.
Poet Seamus Heaney knew Sean Brown.
He said the killing of the sportsman had hurt his soul.
The lustral wash and run of river shallows
That we heard of Sean Brown's murder in the grounds of Bellaghy GAA Club
And imagined hose-water smashing hard back off the asphalt
In the car park where his athlete's blood ran cold.
How hard was it for you coming back down here?
I had been playing football up until that.
I sort of lost heart in it after my father was killed
and now it...
It always brings it back every time you come in the gates,
you see his name above the gate here.
It's always in your head anyway.
Tell me what happened to your father that night.
My father was locking up the gate here at the club
and he was pounced on by I don't know how many men.
They then drove him from here down through Toomebridge
to a slip road just at the end of the motorway at Randalstown,
where he had been... was shot six times.
And his body was left beside his burnt-out car.
No-one has been charged with the murder.
The family feel let down by previous investigations.
So your family have never had an inquest?
No, we never had an inquest.
There has been...
I think it's 26 preliminary hearings.
But after a period of time you say to yourself,
"What is the point in going here
"because we're not hearing anything new."
There's always somebody dragging their feet in some way or another,
and to hold the inquest off for whatever reason.
Whatever reason they see.
In a lot of cases, the PSNI had to release files and documents
and they weren't coming forward with them.
They said they would have them for a certain date and then
that date was pushed back again.
You know, it just kept dragging it out and dragging it out,
and we're just no further forward than we were, say, 15 years ago.
The police said they are managing more than 60 legacy cases
and are not dragging their feet.
The Lord Chief Justice was hoping to address delays with his new plan.
He said he could clear the backlog within five years.
Without the plan, it could take until 2040 to hear
all the existing cases.
The families understood that a crucial part of the plan involved
speeding up the disclosure process.
A new unit would take over the handling of documents
from the PSNI and the Ministry of Defence.
The Lord Chief Justice's plan provides a blue print
whereby the backlog of legacy inquests can be taken forward
probably within five years, but there are two important caveats.
Firstly, they need the resources to do it, but secondly also
the pattern of obstruction, the pattern of not co-operating,
of declining to provide documents, either in a timely fashion
or even declining to provide them at all, has to stop.
As well as the co-operation of the PSNI and the MoD,
the Lord Chief Justice also needed money.
It was at this stage that the Lord Chief Justice's plan
moved out of the courthouse and into the political arena.
The Lord Chief Justice took the plan to the
then Justice Minster, David Ford.
In April this year, David Ford submitted a bid for funding
to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.
It went no further.
Arlene Foster refused to bring the proposal to the full Executive.
And when her veto was leaked, it quickly became an election issue.
We put forward specific proposals of how we could fund those legacy
inquests because of the good work being done by the Lord Chief Justice
and by other judges, and that has been blocked.
I wanted the opportunity to discuss further
with the Lord Chief Justice around the issues of innocent victims
and how we could deal with their issues.
And I make no apology for that whatsoever.
I think the rights of innocent victims are very key in all of this
and I will not allow, I will not allow any process
to rewrite the past of what happened in Northern Ireland.
I'm very fundamental on that and it will not change
either before the election or after the election.
Although the First Minister said she would have further discussions
with the Lord Chief Justice about his proposal, she does not
appear to have done so in the five months since the election.
It became fairly clear during the election campaign that
Arlene Foster was responsible for not allowing that bid to go forward.
But it seemed to be based on the concept that the process
was unbalanced, that if we didn't proceed on all legacy matters
then we shouldn't proceed on any of them.
The reason unionists like Arlene Foster see the process
as potentially unbalanced and in danger of rewriting the past
may be because the vast majority of deaths involved were allegedly
caused by the state.
Ben Lowry is the Deputy Editor of the Newsletter.
He says the First Minister is right.
And he's concerned that victims of republican violence
are being ignored.
I have no dispute with the wish of the families
to have scrutiny of their deaths.
I'm saying that it's coming into the context of a very much
larger number of deaths.
We've got readers who are very distressed victims of IRA violence.
A lot of things that have happened, and the fact that they -
although they may not put it in this way -
have no prospect of even really finding out what happened, erm,
when their relatives were killed.
It's this perceived imbalance that may have prompted the First Minister
to talk of an attempt to rewrite history.
It's not a view shared by Martin McGuinness.
I would be concerned that anybody would think
that the Lord Chief Justice is interested in re-writing the past.
I don't think he is.
I am certainly not interested in re-writing the past
because there are many different narratives about the conflict
and the cause of the conflict.
And of course everybody that was part of that conflict
including, you know, many of the unionist parties,
are as much part of that past as anybody else.
But, you know, what we have to do is find ways forward to resolve
But Ben Lowry fears a partial view of the Troubles is emerging.
I think the process in recent years has become one-sided.
I don't think that it's a conspiracy or anything.
I think there are of course people who want to pursue the state
vindictively but I don't think that that's what's happening.
I think that the state is more vulnerable in these processes
because it has records.
It has become so one-sided and so distorted,
the way that we're looking at the past,
that it is approaching the level of a crisis.
But for some of the families, it is not a question of rewriting
the past but of correcting errors on the public record.
The killing of Leo Norney happened here at the Shepherd's Path
at Whiterock Road late on Saturday night.
But why it happened has become a matter of very great dispute.
Leo Norney was 17 when he was shot and killed by the Army
in West Belfast.
Soldiers involved in the shooting claimed Leo was a gunman.
But he had been stopped and searched minutes earlier
by another military patrol.
He wasn't carrying a weapon.
His mother never stopped trying to clear his name.
Well, I've wrote to President Carter.
I've wrote to the Queen.
-Well, you've always maintained your son's innocence?
And you've always denied the Army claims that he was a gunman?
-How long are you going to keep up your campaign?
Until my two eyes are shut and I'm dead.
And then it'll be finished with.
Annie Norney died in 1997,
and Leo's sister is now fighting for a new inquest.
My parents are dead,
so what I want is an apology,
and I want it made to them,
because their lives were well and truly devastated by Leo's death
and by the attitude of the authorities when my mother
was trying to get to, you know, to the bottom, to get the truth.
The soldier who killed Leo Norney was sent to jail
soon after Leo's death for planting evidence on a civilian.
But the soldier's conviction was never disclosed
to the original inquest.
Like many relatives in these cases, Anne wants a second inquest,
because new evidence has emerged in the intervening years.
Such as the evidence of this man.
I've his photograph in my phone for the last ten years.
Francis Pyper was 14 when he and three friends
witnessed the killing and aftermath.
But he was not called to the original inquest and he has
not told Anne his story until now.
How far away were you from Leo and those soldiers?
As far as that wall.
The way Leo was shot, he was shot in the back there, right.
Now, how do you know that?
How do you know he was shot in the back?
Because we were walking across the field.
We seen, they shot him, he was trying to get back to
the taxi when the first shot went off.
If you look at the postmortem report, the entry wound went into
his left shoulder and it came out.
It ripped into his heart and out, and fractured his right ribcage.
When you pointed to the left shoulder I was amazed,
because that information isn't in the public domain.
I haven't even discussed this with my family.
But Anne and family are still waiting for the evidence
to be put in front of a new inquest.
They want to prove Leo was killed unlawfully.
What's stopping your inquest at the moment?
Arlene Foster -
she's blocked this important funding.
What right has she to block funding?
There is a legal entitlement that he has an inquest.
The Attorney General has ordered this inquest.
It has to be held.
But Miss Foster, she's there to represent everybody.
But she seems to be saying to us and other families,
"I'm not going to do it."
She's saying these lives didn't matter.
We asked to speak to Arlene Foster for this programme but she declined.
Sir Declan Morgan's plan to deal with the backlog of inquests
is still waiting to go in front of the Executive for approval.
The review is proceeding at pace...
The Department of Justice told Spotlight
the proposal is under review,
but the First Minster's objections and her veto seem to remain.
Last month, the Lord Chief Justice spoke publicly about his
frustration at the delay.
It is now almost a year since I assumed the Presidency.
The coroner's courts will not be able to satisfy their legal
obligation to deliver these inquests within a reasonable timeframe
in the absence of the necessary resources.
I do not want us to remain in that position since that would be
yet another devastating blow to the families.
Calls for the British Government to ignore the First Minister's
objections and pay directly for the inquests are supported
by barrister Michael Mansfield.
How do you feel about the fact that the Executive is ignoring
-the top judge in this country?
-Well, it's appalling.
The divisions here are so deep, that there will be people wanting
to block it until kingdom come and you won't get the truth.
Should the Secretary of State not step in, then?
Yes, I think the Secretary of State should step in,
so that's why I'm saying, actually,
the Secretary of State in England should be stepping in,
never mind the Secretary of State here.
So in other words, the Home Secretary should be taking
some responsibility, but more particularly the Prime Minister.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland told us that
because justice is devolved, it is up to the Executive
to resolve the issue.
Nevertheless, the Deputy First Minister insists
it's the UK Government - and not the DUP -
that's the main obstruction.
He told Spotlight he wrote to Prime Minister Theresa May last week
to start new talks on resolving the legacy issues like inquests.
I would love the DUP to agree that we would make a joint request
to the British Government to release that money
for the Lord Chief Justice.
But in the absence of that, the responsibility for denying
the Lord Chief Justice the funding to complete his programme
over the course of five years lies fairly and squarely at the door
of the British government.
But David Ford feels the responsibility to solve this
stalemate lies with Sinn Fein and the DUP.
I think it illustrates the real problems of the so-called
"Fresh Start", that it wasn't actually a fresh start for victims.
It was anything but a fresh start for victims, and yet the government
did the deal with the two biggest parties to the detriment of those
who are wanting to see a full outcome dealing
with all the legacy issues.
You are placing the responsibility for this at the foot
of the British Government.
Is this an attempt to paper over the cracks
between Sinn Fein and the DUP?
No, I never paper over the cracks.
There are differences of opinion between us and the DUP
on a range of issues.
It's also true that we agree about more things than we disagree about,
so we should always keep this in perspective.
We're not agreed on academic selection,
we're certainly not agreed on the issue of the request by
the Lord Chief Justice, and I do think the British Government
could quite easily, even against the backdrop of
no agreement within the Executive Office,
release those funds to the Lord Chief Justice.
And I think questions need to be asked as to why they are not
prepared to do that.
With different views on how to deal with the past,
the problem is finding common ground on how to go forward.
Rosaleen is just one of many.
Nobody's speaking. Nobody's doing nothing.
And it's wrong. It's bad.
You know, it's not just the killers and the murderers
that do the damage.
It is also authorities,
by their lack of support and help,
and they could finish it so quick,
but they just choose not to.
But while the issue remains unresolved,
the pain of the past never goes away.
Some families may have to wait 50 years for answers about the Troubles killings of their loved ones because of an inquests backlog. Bronagh Munro investigates the political fight over funds that would speed up the process.