Thousands took to a rally in Belfast on Sunday calling for “truth and justice” into how their loved ones were killed during the Troubles.
Around 2,000 people paraded through the city for the “Time for Truth” rally. Many waved black flags, some held pictures of loved ones killed and others held banners proclaiming “time for justice”.
Organisers of the march had urged victims from across the community to attend, however, many of those represented were mainly from the nationalist community and their loved ones killed by security forces or loyalist terrorists.
They called for the UK Government to deal with outstanding legacy issues.
Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill speaking at the rally said the event was for all victims, no matter their background.
“They are marching for truth,” she said. “They have all come together with the collective will to want to see the legacy mechanism implemented so these families can get access to inquests.
“These mechanisms were agreed a number of years ago and we have called for the British government to bring forward the consultation and more importantly release the funding for legacy inquests.”
Ms O’Neill repeated that her party had an agreement with the British Government on releasing funds for legacy inquests.
Victims campaigner Raymond McCord, who also attended, said he wanted more people to attend future similar events and with all victims represented.
“I want to see Royal venue flooded with people from the unionist and nationalist communities standing beside each other.
“Sinn Fein has been heavily involved in this and I want to see an event with no political parties involved whatsoever.”
The march was organised before the breakdown of talks between the DUP and Sinn Fein earlier this month. Legacy issues were among those being discussed as politicians worked towards a deal to restore power sharing at Stormont.
Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald, speaking the day after talks collapsed, said the party had secured a commitment from the UK Government to have a public consultation on stalled mechanisms to deal with the Troubles and to release funds needed to finance legacy inquests.
Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly claimed funding for coroner probes into disputed conflict deaths were agreed during the recent talks, but DUP leader Arlene Foster said it would be “astonishing” if the Government granted funding for legacy inquests without an overall agreement.
Speaking to the BBC on Sunday,the victims’ commissioner said a political deal was desirable but not necessary for progress on legacy.
These rights are obligations and rights that are held under the European Convention and the Human Rights Act. Mark Thompson
Mark Thompson, director of Relatives for Justice (RFJ), who attended Sunday’s march, said the British Government “carries the responsibility” of ensuring legacy issues were addressed, and added: “You can’t use as a bargaining chip the rights of victims.”
He said: “It’s disingenuous of the Secretary of State and the UK Government to dangle as a carrot in front of political parties ‘If you guys can get a deal, we will give victims their rights’.
“These rights are obligations and rights that are held under the European Convention and the Human Rights Act.”
He said the weekend demonstration was about more than the sole issue of legacy inquest funding, reiterating a call for action on important elements of the 2014 Stormont House Agreement.
A Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) to examine unsolved murders is “crucially important” to bereaved families, he said.
He said: “That would look at all the unsolved issues for families right across the community and that will deal with approximately 1,800 to 2,000 cases.
“That’s crucially important. So it’s not just about the legacy inquests people are marching for, families are wanting the implementation of all the mechanisms to deal with the past.”
While organisers of Sunday’s march had urged victims from across the community to attend, Mr Thompson blamed unionist politicians for making the issue of dealing with the past “a very divisive” one at times.
He said: “I think it’s much more difficult for groups and people to just be out publicly around this issue, given that it’s being presented by unionist politicians in one way.”
Belfast Telegraph Digital