During the recent negotiations to secure the future of the political institutions the British government successfully thwarted efforts to put in place the legacy elements of last December’s Stormont House Agreement. This was deeply disappointing for victims and their families.
The British government’s refusal to honour last year’s agreement on full disclosure and to employ the pretext of ‘national security’ to deny victims access to state information, follows a familiar pattern. For four decades successive British government’s and their security, intelligence and policing agencies have worked to cover-up the systematic use of collusion, shoot-to-kill actions, and torture.
The determination and commitment of families and of a small number of dedicated victim’s support organisations and human rights lawyers have frustrated their efforts. The Bloody Sunday families; the family of Pat Finucane and the Pat Finucane Centre; Relatives for Justice; Justice for the Forgotten; the Ballymurphy Massacre families; the Springhill massacre families and the McGurk families and many more families and groups have tirelessly campaigned for justice even in the face of British obstruction. They have used a range of legal devices and publicity strategies to keep their cases on the public and political agenda.
Regrettably, it hasn’t just been the British government that has opposed the efforts of families. The Irish government has also played a depressingly negative role.
One case in point is that of Seamus Ludlow. I met the extended Ludlow family last week in Dundalk along with their legal representatives from KRWLAW – Human Rights Lawyers, who also represent the Hooded Men. Along with Kevin Winters and Gavin Booth from the law firm there were 19 of Seamus Ludlow’s family present, including his sister Kathleen.
Like many other families campaigning for truth for loved ones killed during the conflict the Ludlow campaign now embraces several generations. Brothers and sisters of Seamus Ludlow have died since he was murdered in May 1976. But last Friday those members of the family who have campaigned for 40 years were joined by nephews and nieces and grand nephews and grand nieces who have now taken up the challenge.
Seamus was 47 years old when he was murdered by a UVF/Red Hand Commando gang. Among the four men involved in the murder were two serving officers in the Ulster Defence Regiment. Seamus was shot and thrown into a ditch near his Thistle Cross, Dundalk home.
In the months after his death the family was the target of a sustained smear campaign by the Gardaí who claimed that Seamus was killed by the IRA allegedly because he was an informer. They also subsequently claimed that a member of the family was involved. None of this was true.
The investigation into the murder was suspended quickly by the Gardaí. Four months after Seamus was shot dead an inquest was held. The Gardaí failed to inform the family in time. As a result no family members were present.
Subsequently it also emerged that the Gardaí knew that unionist paramilitaries were responsible from shortly after the murder. In a letter to the Gardaí in January 1979 the RUC identified the four suspects it believed were responsible for the killing. Two confessed during interrogation by the RUC although later the DPP in the north declined to take them to court.
The Gardaí never interviewed the four men and never told the family. The family first heard of the four in an investigative report by the Sunday Tribune in 1998 uncovered the names of those allegedly involved in the murder.
As a result of the steadfastness and courage of the Ludlow family the murder was investigated by the Barron Commission, which also investigated the Dublin-Monaghan Bombings, as well as bomb attacks in Castleblaney, Dundalk, the Miami Showband murders and the deaths of 18 other citizens.
It reported that files and much of the forensic evidence, including fingerprint evidence and ballistics was missing from Garda files.
The Final Report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry from the Irish Parliamentary Joint Committee on Justice was published in March 2006. It expressed its “disappointment at the lack of cop-operation from the British authorities … the role collusion played in the murder of Seamus Ludlow.” It was also hugely critical of the behaviour of the Gardaí toward the family. It accused the Gardaí of having treated the family in “an appalling manner.”
Crucially the report also recommended the establishment of two Commissions of Investigation by the Irish government. “One commission was to examine the conduct of the Garda investigation and the co-operation with the police in the North and the other was to examine the issues relating to the absence of relevant documentation. To date we note that these recommendations have not been furthered since.”
Last year I wrote to the Minister for Justice asking if he would implement the outstanding recommendations of the Final report. He said: “There are, however, no plans at present to establish a Commission of Investigation into the case.”
Along with their legal team the Ludlow family has now mapped out a legal route to highlight the case and secure additional information from the Irish and British governments. Specifically in the north the family will issue civil proceedings against the PSNI (who inherited the responsibilities of the RUC), the British Ministry of Defence and the Secretary of State in an action for damages including collusion and negligence. This they believe will help assist the discovery of evidence. The family also intend writing to the office of the Public Prosecution Service asking why it's predecessor the DPP refused to prosecute the four men identified as the unionist paramilitary gang responsible.
The family also intend writing to the Irish govt over its refusal to act on the Barron recommendations.
Almost 40 years after his murder and nearly ten years after the ‘Final Report on the Report of the Barron Commission’ it is the Irish government – not the British government – that continues to obstruct the Ludlow family’s efforts to get to the truth. It is the Irish government which is refusing to establish the Commissions of Investigation.