THE BRITISH Government is facing an “unprecedented” wave of legal action as Troubles victims turn to the courts to get the truth about the atrocities which killed or maimed their loved ones.
More than 300 cases alleging State collusion in murders and attacks during the North of Ireland’s most turbulent period threaten to overwhelm British courts in the coming year, The Irish Post has learnt.
Lawyers representing the affected families claim they ‘aren’t looking for convictions or compensation’ but want the truth many have been denied for years.
“Families do not like to talk about compensation and the overwhelming majority tell me that they don’t want money,” said Paddy Murray, whose Belfast firm is undertaking 40 cases against the British Government.
The lawyer, who claims there are at least 100 further cases currently under consideration with Padraig Ó Muirigh Solicitors, added: “They know that civil action is the only tool that will give them access to documents that have been withheld from them for decades and will not be handed over voluntarily.”
Following the collapse of last year’s Haass talks, the families have ‘given up’ on politicians as they search for answers to questions that have haunted them for decades, the lawyer explained.
News of the colossal legal challenge awaiting the state comes two weeks after victims of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings announced their plans to sue the British Government, alleging collusion.
Their legal bid follows a decade of refusals by Westminster to open its files on the case — deemed the worst atrocity of the Troubles — which killed 34 people and left 300 injured.
Mayor of Monaghan Seán Conlon received a chorus of applause over the weekend, after stating that Anglo-Irish relations would “count for very, very little indeed” until the documents were released.
He was speaking at a commemoration event marking the 40th anniversary of the attack on Saturday, May 17.
Other families already taking legal action against the British Government alleging collusion include those who lost loved ones in the McGurk’s bar bombing and the Miami Showband massacre.
Scores more cases are expected to be launched alleging collusion with the ‘Gelnanne Gang’, a notorious group of loyalist killers who have been connected to 120 Troubles murders.
While the impending civil cases will be listed as compensation claims, the families’ lawyers stress they are only taking action to get access to previously withheld government papers.
That legal tussle is due to take a symbolic step next month as lawyer Kevin Winters begins a High Court battle in Belfast for access to Ministry of Defence and Police Service of Northern Ireland documents for a case concerning collusion.
Mr Winters told The Irish Post that his firm is involved in more than 20 collusion cases against the British Government, including the cases being brought by the Dublin-Monaghan and McGurk’s families.
That number could rise to 200 by the end of 2015, he added.
Mr Winters said he was anticipating “many battles” ahead as the British State seeks to cite national security concerns to withhold key documents or have cases heard in secret.
“The important statistic is this: Not once in this jurisdiction has there been a collusion case that has run the whole way in the courts,” he explained.
“That is going to change in the next couple of years.”
Meanwhile, Mr Murray’s firm is currently representing more than 40 families in collusion cases.
A further 100 cases are under consideration with the law firm, either awaiting a barrister opinion or legal aid decision.
Alan Brecknell, a case worker at the Pat Finucane Centre said scores of families have been pushed down the legal route because Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers “ignored” revelations in a book by his colleague Anne Cadwallader linking agents of the British State to the Glenanne gang.
The PFC’s requests to meet British ministers or get a detailed response to the book’s allegations have been consistently rebuffed since the book’s publication last October, he explained.
“It is unfortunate, to put it very mildly, to see that they have not seen fit to come out with some sort of a statement on what is being alleged in the book,” Mr Brecknell said. “It’s not good enough,” he added.
In response to the suggestions, a Northern Ireland Office spokesperson told The Irish Post: “The NIO is mindful of the concerns raised by Anne Cadwallader of alleged collusion in respect of the so-called Glenanne gang. The department is considering very carefully the serious claims made in her book, Lethal Allies, and will respond to the author in due course.”
They added: “The Government takes claims of collusion very seriously. In response to the De Silva report the Prime Minister made it clear that “collusion should never, ever happen”.