The Northern Ireland Office has referred a decision on new inquests into the shooting by the SAS of eight IRA men in Loughgall in May 1987 to the UK’s attorney general.
Richard Grieve must decide if fresh inquests into the deaths of the eight members of the East Tyrone brigade of the IRA should be prevented, amid claims that highly sensitive security information of national significance could be revealed.
The move follows a referral by the NIO through Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, but has led to a slew of criticism.
The office of the Northern Ireland attorney general, John Larkin, QC, who was reappointed to the role in May past, said: “The attorney general wishes me to inform you that he considers the Secretary of State’s decision to be profoundly wrong in principle and is currently reflecting on the appropriate response to it.”
Mr Larkin had sought new inquests after the European Court of Human Rights earlier ruling which said the human rights of those killed by the undercover British soldiers had been violated.
But the Secretary of State has now passed the matter to the UK attorney general.
She said: “It is still the same decision about whether to have an inquest, it is just a different law officer who is making that decision. In both cases, law officers act entirely independently of government and in both cases exactly the same criteria are applied. The law provides for a different decision maker where national security considerations are at stake.”
The eight IRA men were shot by undercover SAS as they prepared to mount a bomb attack on the Co Armagh village police station.
An innocent civilian, Anthony Hughes, also died, while his brother was seriously wounded when they too were driving through Loughgall, making their way home from work.
The IRA men who died were Patrick Kelly, Michael Gormley, Declan Arthurs, James Lynagh, Seamus Donnelly, Gerard O’Callaghan, Eugene Kelly, and Patrick McKearney.
Sinn Fein Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew said the families of the men were being “denied the truth”, while campaigners vowed to challenge the decision by the Secretary of State.
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