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25 March 2004 Edition

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Collusion: The stalling continues

BY LAURA FRIEL

British attempts to curtail full disclosure of state collusion continued this week, with British law lords ruling that European Union law has no jurisdiction in relation to a series of controversial killings that took place before 2000. The decision threatens the ability of any new inquiries tasked with establishing the truth about state collusion.

Five British law lords ruled unanimously that the government's obligation under Article two of the European Convention on Human Rights does not apply to deaths that occurred before the Human Rights Act brought the provisions of the convention into British domestic law.

Article two compels governments to carry out "effective and independent" investigations into killings involving state agents. The law lords ruling overturned an earlier ruling by courts in the north of Ireland that the family of Gervaise McKerr was entitled to a new investigation into his death.

McKerr and two other IRA Volunteers were ambushed and killed by an undercover RUC unit in November 1982. All three men were unarmed at the time of their killing. Three RUC officers were later acquitted of murder but last year Judge Carswell ruled that the original RUC investigation leading to the acquittals had been inadequate.

The British law lords' ruling not only jettisons the possibility of a new investigation into the McKerr/Toman/Burns killings, but also throws the independent inquiries ordered by Canadian Judge Cory into jeopardy.

Despite a commitment to publish last year the findings of Cory's reports into four controversial killings and accepted any recommendation for a public inquiry by the judge, the British government continues to stall. The Dublin government met its commitment to publish two reports by Cory and to date, has complied with the judge's recommendations.

The British government has cited 'security' and 'legal' matters as reasons for the continuing delay. There is now speculation that the report will be published on 1 April, but according to Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly, no-one should be fooled. "The British government have not given any commitment to publish the report in full. Anything less than the full report is unacceptable."

Judge Cory, incensed at British stalling, broke with protocol and contacted the relatives directly to inform then he had ordered public inquiries into all four cases. The cases considered by Cory included the murder of solicitors Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson, the death of Robert Hamill and the killing of LVF leader Billy Wright.

The Finucane family successfully sought a judicial review challenging the publication delay but the case was adjourned after lawyers acting for the British government indicated that publication would be forthcoming within a month. The families are still waiting.

Meanwhile, families of ten people killed in suspicious circumstances in County Tyrone continue to wait for inquests into the deaths over ten years after the killings. The deaths include IRA Volunteers Peter Ryan, Tony Doris and Lawrence McNally, shot dead in a SAS ambush in 1991; Jack and Kevin McKearny, shot dead by a loyalist death squad; IRA Volunteers Kevin Barry O'Donnell, Patrick Vincent, Seán O'Farrell and Peter Clancy, shot dead by the SAS in 1992; and 76-year-old Roseanne Mallon, shot dead by a loyalist death squad in 1994.

Speaking immediately after the 16th preliminary hearing into the killing suffered another adjournment, Relatives for Justice spokesperson and nephew of Roseanne Mallon, Martin Mallon, said the families were "deeply disappointed" that once again there has been yet another delay in convening the inquest.

"Dealing with violent loss has been difficult enough for the families to cope with and the now seemingly norm of continuing delay is adding to existing hurt and trauma. It needs to stop," said Martin.

"The coroner has accepted that there are systematic problems with the inquest system in the north of Ireland and has stated that he can see no distinction between the cases he has been tasked to consider and those considered by Judge Cory," said Martin.

At the hearing presiding Coroner Roger McLernon urged the British government to establish a special unit to investigate controversial killings in the north of Ireland, insisting that the current inquest system was not designed to cope with allegations of state collusion.

Meanwhile, the British government's stalling tactics have not gone unnoticed and unchallenged abroad. Earlier this month, US Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry was among seven US Senators to write to the British Prime Minister demanding the immediate publication of Cory's reports.

The senators expressed dismay at the six-month lapse since Cory handed his reports to the British Government and pointed out, "there had been no clear confirmation that public inquiries will be held into all the cases where Judge Cory has recommended them."

The letter went on to criticise the British Government for failing to confirm that Cory had recommended inquiries despite the fact that the Judge had gone on record saying he had.

"While we understand that your government has national security concerns, we also note that Judge Cory is clear that he took these concerns into account when drafting his reports. It is also difficult to accept fear of prejudice to prosecutions as a reason for delay. We share the continuing concern of the families that justice has already been delayed for far too long."

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