• February 21, 2010

The British government seems to be disregarding United Nations criticisms of the independence and credibility of inquiries established into the murders of several prominent individuals in Northern Ireland.

The Celtic League had written to the Northern Ireland Office asking what steps it was taken to comply with recommendations from the UN Human Rights Committee – International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – which in its most recent report called for greater transparency and credibility in the conduct of inquiries.

In their reply to the League the NIO say that inquiries being conducted under the auspices of the Inquiries Act 2005 and via the PSNI Historical Enquiries Team adequately meet benchmarks for independence and impartiality.

However, Canadian Judge, Peter Cory who was commissioned by the British and Irish governments to investigate the possibility of state collusion in six high-profile murders, has criticised the Inquiries Act 2005. He told the United states House Foreign affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations:

“it seems to me that the proposed new Act would make a meaningful inquiry impossible. The Commissions would be working in an impossible situation. For example, the Minister, the actions of whose ministry was to be reviewed by the public inquiry would have the authority to thwart the efforts of the inquiry at every step. It really creates an intolerable Alice in wonderland situation. There have been references in the press to an international judicial membership in the inquiry. If the new Act were to become law, I would advise all Canadian judges to decline an appointment in light of the impossible situation they would be facing. In fact, I cannot contemplate any self-respecting Canadian judge accepting an appointment to an inquiry constituted under the new proposed Act.”

Speaking of the Inquiries Act the chairman of the US Committee, Representative, Chris Smith declared that:

“the bill pending before the British Parliament should be named the ‘Public Inquiries Cover-up Bill.”

Meanwhile, the operation of the PSNI Historical Enquiries Team (HET) has also been bedevilled by difficulties. In 2008 it was revealed that the HET had a staff turnover of 40% during its first year of operation and this high turnover continuing in the subsequent year.

The `freedom of action’ of the HET and resources available to it have also been the subject of controversy.

Text of the NIO response below:

“Northern Ireland Rights Election and Legacy Division
Legacy Unit

Dear Mr Moffatt


Thank you for your letter of the 3rd February 2010 regarding the Concluding observations of the United Nations Human Rights Committee regarding the United Kingdom’s sixth periodic report. I have been asked to reply.

The Government has established four public inquiries relating to past cases in Northern Ireland. Inquiries have been established into the events of Bloody Sunday in 1972; and the deaths of Billy Wright, Rosemary Nelson and Robert Hamill. Each inquiry is under the control of a fully independent judge. All of the inquiries have now completed their public hearings and we expect all of them to complete their reports this year. The timing of when the inquiries conclude and hand over their reports to Government is, however, ultimately a matter for the independent inquiries themselves.

The Government agrees that public inquiries should be independent and impartial. Your letter refers to the Inquiries Act 2005, under which both the Robert Hamill and Billy Wright inquiries are conducted. The Government is of the view that inquiries held under the Inquiries Act are fully independent, impartial, full and credible. Inquiries under the Inquiries Act have full statutory powers to compel evidence, are public to the extent possible and their conclusions are made public.

The Committee’s conclusions also referred to their concerns over prosecutions in relation to murders in Northern Ireland. The Police Service of Northern Ireland’s (PSNI) Historical Enquiries Team (HET) began its work in January 2006 and provides a thorough and independent re-examination of 3,268 deaths between 1968 and 1998 attributable to “the Troubles”. One of the aims of the HET is to ensure that all investigative and evidential opportunities are examined and exploited in a manner that satisfies the PSNI’s obligation of an `Effective Investigation’

. In cases where there are allegations about the actions of police officers, the HET refers them to Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and separate, parallel investigations are conducted.

Yours sincerely

Brendan Threlfall”

Link to news article about HET difficulties:


Related article on Celtic News:


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