Axing camouflages real target

By Mark Thompson

Under Dr Maguire’s approach and restructuring of historic investigations, post-Al Hutchinson, the Office of the Police Ombudsman now enjoys the confidence of families. That’s a fact reinforced by this week’s CJINI report underlining a best practice approach. This is in stark contrast to the discredited PSNI’s Historic Enquiries Team (HET) that continues to deny families reports and information. The focus on the HET’s demise camouflages the real target of this week’s cuts – the Police Ombudsman.

That Minister Ford imposed funding cuts representing eight per cent to the only mechanism effectively addressing legacy matters flies in the face of logic and families will ask the question, why?

Moreover, the Police Ombudsman draws only on one per cent of the entire budget of the Department of Justice, yet the outputs are significantly greater. The bulk is split between the PSNI and Prison Service, receiving £825 million and £178 million respectively.

As we understand it, the Police Ombudsman is currently dealing with 340 cases involving killings and in order to conduct investigations required a mere £1.2 million. This sum was rejected. What price justice? We calculate that this represents approximately £3.5K per killing. The hospitality budget alone for the NIO last year represented half a million pounds.

Worse, more than this is being squandered on expenses across a range of institutions – the same institutions that are telling the Police Ombudsman and families there’s no money to investigate the murders of their loved ones.

These cuts mean the current investigation timeframe has now been doubled with at best, an expected outcome of 12 years for conclusion of many investigations. Bereaved relatives are ageing and dying and at this rate many will now not see the outcomes. This is unacceptable.

Families will rightly ask why this money can’t be provided. They will rightly be angry with DoJ and the NIO. This news will cause further distress and upset to families from across the community who have invested hope in the Police Ombudsman.

Governments and politicians need to do more in the immediate term now whilst also looking to the longer term. The implementation of an Eames/Bradley – Haass/O’Sullivan type proposal is long overdue. Funds are urgently required for the Police Ombudsman.

It’s not acceptable for the British Government to sit back and watch squabbling over cuts to a block grant on legacy issues they were responsible for causing. It’s too convenient a strategy and one on which they remain unchallenged. These costs should not come from the block grant and RFJ have put this on record with David Ford and the NIO.

The issues at stake here are about the nature and extent of state killings and collusion and that is why there’s so much resistance. Had it been about republicans then the money would have been provided, as it was for three inquiries into on-the-runs. Ultimately the British Treasury should carry the cost of legacy directly, given their overall responsibility, both legally for ensuring compliant investigations, and that the majority of these killings happened under direct rule as a part of London’s security policy. The British Government has billions of pounds to go to war, yet can’t find a few pounds to address the consequences of the war here.

Mark Thompson is Director of Relatives for Justice

Editorial, page 20.

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