Reavey brother welcomes 5 year legacy inquests plan

March 14, 2016

The brother of three men shot dead by loyalists 40 years ago has has welcomed a five-year plan proposed by Northern Ireland’s most senior judge to deal with legacy inquests into some of the most controversial killings of the Troubles.

Eugene Reavey, whose brothers John Martin (24), Brian (22) and Anthony (17) were gunned down by a UVF gang in a sectarian attack on their rural home in Whitecross on 4th January 1976, told The Examiner he was delighted to be present when Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan, met with over one hundred victims’ families last month to discuss a review of legacy cases carried out by Lord Justice Weir earlier this year.

Sir Declan said his proposed way forward had been influenced by the views of families of victims during this “extremely worthwhile” meeting and added that “the only way to gain the trust and confidence of the families is to deliver outcomes.”

The 56 legacy cases involve 95 deaths, and include killings by police officers and soldiers, and others where there are allegations of collusion. The majority of the deaths under consideration were carried out by the notorious Glenanne Gang based in south Armagh. The gang was directed by the RUC Special Branch and Military Intelligence and operated a campaign of bombings and shootings at will without fear of detection. The Glenanne Gang were responsible for some of the most heinous crimes of the trouble including the murders of the Reavey brothers, the bombing of  Donnelly’s Bar in Silverbridge,  the bombing of Kay’s Tavern Dundalk, the shooting of the O’Dowds at Guilford, a non fatal car bomb attack of Tully’s Bar in Belleek, the bombing of the Step Inn Bar in Keady, the bombing and shooting at the Rock Bar in Granemore and the bombing and the shooting of the Miami Show Band.

Sir Declan Morgan announced his five year plan to a victims and survivors conference in Belfast last week, outlining his intentions to establish a new legacy inquest unit and a new electronic data management system to manage the huge quantity of sensitive documentation involved in the cases. He said his plan will require the provision of additional resources and advised that If the funding is provided before the assembly election in May, the new unit could start work in September.  He told the conference that the secretary of state has indicated that she would give very serious consideration to a request for funding from the Northern Ireland Executive and added that the rate of progress would depend of on the level of funding provided.

“There remains time before the assembly elections for the executive to take a decision to put forward a bid to the secretary of state for the draw-down of funding to allow legacy inquests to proceed,” said the Lord Chief Justice.

“I have set a timescale of five years for completion of the existing legacy cases which are before the coroner, from the point at which resources are provided,” he explained.

Speaking to The Examiner after Sir Declan’s announcement, Eugene Reavey detailed the discussions that took place during February’s legacy engagement event between victims’ families, Sir Declan, Lord Weir and Mr Justice Colton, the Presiding Coroner.

“The Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan had previously appointed Lord Justice Weir to conduct a review of over 80 legacy cases,” explained Eugene.

“Justice Weir approached this task in a very bullish manner, determined to find out what the problems were which were causing the serious delays.

“Taking no nonsense from the PSNI and the Ministry of Defence, he insisted that documents be provided in shorter times to the trial judge. All of the material was to be seen by the trial judge in unredacted form,” he added.

“Justice Colton has been appointed as presiding coroner and will case manage all these legacy files to ensure that they get to court in time and without delay.

“To ensure that funding for these cases would be provided he has entered into discussions with Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness.”

Eugene highlighted that all the Glenanne cases will be treated thematically so that inquests can be tackled in a structured and systematic way, to provide a full and complete picture to the presiding judge, “instead of looking at these cases in isolation.”

“Lord Chief justice has proposed a 5 year plan to see all these cases come to fruition and declared that no-one will be able to hide behind a doctor’s note,” said Eugene.

“If a suspect is deemed not fit to travel to court then they will hear that case via videolink.

“Sir Declan has said he will meet with the families in three month’s time to update us with the progress he has made.”

While Mr Reavey has welcomed Sir Declan’s proposals, he remains sceptical of the commitment of the Executive to support the progress with funding.

“All of the victims relatives expressed dissatisfaction with the political system and its inability to agree on a way forward,” he said.

“Arlene Foster has stated that no progress will be made until after the elections. This does not bode well for the victims families, some of whom have been waiting over 40 years to try to get justice for the death of their loved ones.”