Northern Ireland

David Ford backs call for government to fund Troubles killings inquiries

Scene of Grew and McCaughey killings Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption The European human rights commissioner called for the UK government to fund investigations

Justice Minister David Ford has backed a call for the government to pay for investigations of killings by soldiers and police during the Troubles.

Mr Ford said he believed the government had a moral and financial obligation to play its part in dealing with the past.

On Thursday, European human rights commissioner Nils Muiznieks said budget cuts could not be used as an excuse for not upholding the rule of law.

The government said it took its human rights obligations extremely seriously.

'Difficult balance'

Mr Muiznieks said the government was currently breaching the European Convention of Human Rights by not conducting effective, independent and reasonably prompt investigations into the killings, he said.

Mr Ford said article two of the convention, the right to life, posed a difficult balance between "obligations to protect the life of people today as well as obligations to investigate deaths in the past".

"At the moment, the justice system is funded for today - it's not funded for the past," he told BBC Radio Foyle on Friday.

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Media captionJustice Minister David Ford said the government has responsibilities under the European Convention

"That's why in the political talks I've made it clear we need a new specialist unit - this would be something like the historical investigations unit recommended by Richard Haass last year.

"We should be seeking funding for that from the British government, given its role in the past."

More than 300 people were killed by the security forces in Northern Ireland.

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Media captionNils Muiznieks said the government should be conducting effective, independent and reasonably prompt investigations into the killings

As one of 47 members of the Council of Europe, the UK has signed up to the Convention on Human Rights.

The European Court has previously ruled that the British government had failed to comply with its legal obligations.

In response, the government put forward a package of measures that it said fulfilled its legal duties.

The government points to the work of the Historical Enquiries Team, the office of the Police Ombudsman and inquests in Coroner's courts as evidence of its commitment to investigating the past.

However, critics and campaign groups say, that in reality, the investigation into killings by soldiers and police officers has virtually ground to a halt.

'Strong track record'

The HET has ceased conducting investigations and will cease to exist from the end of the year. Investigations by the police ombudsman into some highly controversial killings have been delayed because of budget cuts. A lack of resources has also led to long delays in inquests.

Speaking on Thursday, Mr Muiznieks said budget cuts "should not be used as an excuse to hamper the work of those working for justice".

He said: "The UK government cannot wash its hands of the investigations, including funding of the investigations. These are the most serious human rights violations."

In a statement released on Thursday, a Northern Ireland Office spokesperson said the UK government has a "strong track record in upholding human rights, and takes its human rights obligations extremely seriously".

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