The following is a speech delivered by Roisín Uí Mhuirí at our conference “Dealing With the Past -A contributor to peace”.
It details one family’s experience of the delays at inquests and the impact on a bereaved family. It persuasively argues for a victims centred and human rights compliant approach to this matter.
Given the ongoing failure to negotiate a comprehensive process to deal with our past this speech is timely and an argument for all parties to remain focussed until agreement is reached.
On Sunday 16th February 1992 my brother was shot dead by the British Army. He was part of an IRA active service unit. The unit had attacked Coalisland Police station with a 12.7 machine gun mounted on the back of a lorry. After the attack the plan was to go to Clonoe Chapel to dismantle the gun and leave. As the lorry entered the grounds of Clonoe Chapel the SAS opened fire without warning. They fired over 500 rounds at the moving lorry. Peter Clancy 21, Sean O’Farrell 22, Patrick Vincent 20 and my brother, Kevin Barry O’Donnell 21 were shot dead.
Reports in the media were deliberate misinformation. There was no gun battle! There was no shoot out! There were no shots fired by any of the men. This was shoot to kill!
In 2002, in Cookstown, County Tyrone the preliminary scheduling of the inquests officially opened.
It has been 22 years since Barry was shot dead and we are no nearer to closure. We have attended over twenty preliminary hearings locally but since these hearings have been moved to Belfast. We do try and attend preliminary hearings but it is much more difficult to make the 80 mile trip for a 20 minute court session.
Much of the information given to our legal team has been so heavily redacted that it is of no use. We don’t even have a date for an inquest.
There are some in our society who feel that we are an embarrassment and a burden on society as it move on from the conflict.
Indeed many politicians see us as a bartering tool during talks. As families we worry that the legal costs may not be met, as legal aid is often refused. Although there seems to be a bottomless pit for the state’s legal representatives but this is not the case with our legal teams.
For 22 years we have been in limbo waiting for an inquest.
These years of limbo have taken a toll on all our families- Peter Clancy’s mother, father and brother have died without closure, Sean O’Farrell’s father has died without closure, Patrick Vincent’s father has died without closure. My own frail father is now suffering from dementia and will never get the thing that he needed so much, the one thing that probably unites all victims of this conflict- the truth.
The truth is that Barry, Peter, Sean and Patrick could and should have been arrested. We believe that a decision was taken at the highest level in the government. This is what the British government is willing to spend vast amounts of money to conceal. This is why they have used stalling tactics waiting for our parents to age, or the families give up so Peter, Sean, Patrick and Barry will never have a voice.
The stalling tactic by the authorities means that the onus to get the truth about my brother’s death has fallen on my generation, a generation who was brought up in the troubles, and has suffered enough. This is now affecting our sons and daughters as we strive for the truth. Our families remain locked in limbo.
The stalling tactic by the authorities is preventing my community from moving on and healing.
The stalling tactic by the authorities is preventing our society from reaching full potential in a well-deserved and hard earned future.
We need a properly funded, independent inquest that is article 2 compliant. We need full legal aid representation equal to that of the state. We need the PSNI and Ministry of Defence to release all evidence to our legal teams.
We need to find the truth. We need the state to admit its full role during the conflict. This need gnaws away at my family- likewise with the families of Peter, Sean, Patrick and many more families here today. For me It’s a book I can’t close. We need the truth so that we can begin to heal.
We need the truth now so that the next generation can fully participate in their future without worrying about the past.