WHEN the Police Ombudsman wrote to families to tell them that due to the Legacy Act they would not be completing investigations into their cases there was little shock.
Families received a generic letter from Police Ombudsman Senior Director of Investigation, Paul Holmes. Mr Holmes is a long-standing and senior figure within the Ombudsman’s office. He has been involved in significant cases and has engaged with hundreds of families and all NGOs. He is aware of the impact of trauma, of failures in investigations in compounding trauma and the reality of multiple generations engaging.
Mr Holmes will be particularly aware of the scandal that already faced his office where the majority of so-called legacy cases have not been investigated, some sitting in that office for over ten years. He will be aware that some of the cases which have now been abandoned are exceptionally high-profile cases where RUC collusion and deliberate police cover-up feature heavily. These include families affected by loyalism and republicanism.
That families last week received a letter without reference to their loved ones’ names or the status of the investigations within the office was a shameful moment of casual disregard. It may not have been a thought-out and overt attempt to erase the memory of men, women and children and compound the trauma of their families who have been systemically failed by the state already, but it sure looked like it. It is impossible to believe that the only issue for not progressing those investigations to date has been resources, when families can be so treated. It is a stain on that office, and while the Legacy Act is at the heart of the failure, the Ombudsman’s office has failed families for years. This is just worse.
Two days later, in a more thoughtful statement from the presiding Coroner Mr Justice Humphries, many families at inquest were told that their loved one's inquest cannot be heard in time for the justice and human rights guillotine of the Legacy Act in May. The statement acknowledged the impact on families. However, it is sickening to remember how inquests have been subject to political football matches, including the infamous failure to fund inquests by Arlene Foster and systemic obstruction by the state. Had the state cooperated with coroners to date, had the system been allowed to function, these inquests might have been heard years ago. Families have been let down for a long time before this Act. This is just worse.
So what did the goodly Victims Commissioner have to say about all this? The man paid handsomely to speak for families? He announced that he is jumping ship, to fill the post in Cooperation Ireland left vacant by Mr Peter Sheridan. Without a second thought for what human rights solicitor Niall Murphy described as the “massive shut down in live time” of human rights for victims and survivors, off he bounced to pastures new. To be fair, most families wouldn’t know him or his name anyway, such is the irrelevance of that office.
The Irish Government must now stride into that space of disregard, failure and let down, take an inter-state case and stand up for families. They know this; the only question is, when will they do it?