IN-DEPTH: Northern Ireland Truth Body ‘Waste of Time and Money,’ Says Son of Troubles Victim

Legislation introduced to draw a line under crimes committed during The Troubles is set to come into force on May 1 but it has left many families unsatisfied.
IN-DEPTH: Northern Ireland Truth Body ‘Waste of Time and Money,’ Says Son of Troubles Victim
Marie Newton (L), widow of John Toland, and Mary Loughrey (C), widow of Jim Loughrey, with family members outside the Royal Courts Justice in Belfast on Feb. 26, 2024. (Liam McBurney/PA Wire)
Chris Summers

The son of a pub manager shot dead by loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland in 1976 says he has no confidence a body set up as a result of a controversial piece of legislation will be able to shed light on his father’s murder or any of the 3,600 other deaths during The Troubles.

The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act was controversially passed by Parliament last year and comes into force on May 1.

The legislation was pushed through following a campaign by Tory MP and former soldier Johnny Mercer, who claimed “vexatious litigation” was harassing veterans who had served in Northern Ireland.

It gives immunity to soldiers, police officers, and paramilitaries who may have committed crimes during The Troubles, as long as they tell the truth at hearings to be held by the new Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR).

When the legislation comes into force it will also bring the guillotine down on any further criminal prosecutions or civil litigation against anyone involved in The Troubles, on the proviso they give full admissions to the ICRIR.

Danny Toland, whose father John was murdered by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) in 1976, told The Epoch Times he does not believe former paramilitaries will come forward and make full and frank confessions.

He said, “Republican, loyalist, Catholic, Protestant, they’re all 100 percent behind trying to get this bill revoked, but it’s not going to happen.”

Last year the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he would repeal the Legacy Act, but Mr. Danny Toland does not believe he will follow through with that promise.

Mr. Danny Toland said of the ICRIR, “It’s a waste of time and money to be very honest with you, they’re just throwing money after something that’s going to get nowhere.”

On Monday, John Toland’s family—and the family of another man, James Loughrey, who was also killed by the UDA—were at the Belfast High Court, after accepting financial settlements from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and the Ministry of Defence (MOD) over the deaths.

The judge, Mr. Justice Humphreys, told Belfast High Court, “For both sides it represents an achievement to be noted, you have brought finality to a lengthy and difficult process.”

The families have alleged there was collusion between the security forces and the loyalist gunmen from the UDA, but although the PSNI and the MOD have paid out a “significant” amount they have not made any admission of liability.

‘Draconian Legislation’ Deprives Troubles Victims’ Families

Padraig O'Muirigh, the solicitor representing the Toland and Loughrey families, said, “It is crucial that cases of this nature are allowed to progress through the inquest and civil proceedings unhindered by the NI Troubles, Legacy and Reconciliation Act.”

“Unfortunately many families will be deprived of the opportunity to pursue their own legal actions by the draconian legislation,” he added.

Mr. O'Muirigh told The Irish Times at the weekend at least 16 ongoing inquests would not finish before May 1 and would be discontinued, with the families unable to pursue any litigation even in the event of verdicts of unlawful killing.

In January the coroner dealing with the inquest into the death of Patrick Duffy, 50, who was shot dead by an undercover British Army unit in Londonderry in 1978, said he would be unable to complete it by May 1 because the MOD said it could not provide sensitive material in time.

Another case which is on the cusp is the inquest into the deaths of three IRA men who were shot dead by the SAS after an ambush in Coagh, County Tyrone in 1991.
One of those who died was Tony Doris, 21, whose cousin Michelle O'Neill, from Sinn Fein, was installed earlier this month as Northern Ireland’s first minister.
In August last year Soldier F, a former SAS member, refused to turn up to give evidence at the inquest despite being served with a subpoena.

Government Wants to ‘Cover up What Actually Went On’

Mr. Danny Toland said his family were not republicans and he said the IRA had been responsible for many “atrocities.”

He said: “There wasn’t one person in this country that died for a reason. Nobody should have died from any side ... but I just think that what the British government has pushed through is for their own advantage to cover up what actually went on ... I think they need to put their hand up and say we were culpable in this.”

Mr. John Toland was working in the Happy Landing pub in Eglinton, near Derry, when he was shot dead by the UDA in November 1976. Three days later Mr. Loughrey was shot dead by the same UDA unit in nearby Greysteel.

The Ulster Freedom Fighters, a cover-name for the UDA, admitted responsibility for Mr. John Toland’s murder and claimed he had been passing information to the IRA, a slur which was laid to rest in 2012 when a report by the PSNI’s Historical Enquiries Team said it was “entirely without foundation or substance.”

Undated image of John Toland, with his wife Marie, and their seven children, including Danny (second from left). Mr. Toland was murdered on Nov. 14, 1976 by the UDA in Greysteel, Northern Ireland. (Toland family/PA)
Undated image of John Toland, with his wife Marie, and their seven children, including Danny (second from left). Mr. Toland was murdered on Nov. 14, 1976 by the UDA in Greysteel, Northern Ireland. (Toland family/PA)

Mr. Danny Toland, who was 14 when his father was killed, told The Epoch Times he vividly remembers that day.

He said he had come back from school and was doing his homework upstairs when he heard the phone ring and then heard his mother “squealing.”

“I ran down and the phone was swinging from side to side and my mother was lying in the hall,” recalled Mr. Danny Toland, who said he ran across the road to the cathedral and got a priest to comfort his mother.

He said his father’s death had a “massive impact” on his family with one relative committing suicide and another trying to take her own life.

Mr. Danny Toland said he had amassed an enormous amount of information over the years about who killed his father and why, and he said he believed a key part of the reason for the secrecy in the case was the involvement in the UDA in Derry in the 1970s of a serving member of the Royal Marines, who is referred to in redacted documents only as Suspect 1.

Mr. Danny Toland, who is 62, said his mother, Marie, is now 82 and he said the settlement from the PSNI was the end of the road for his family.

“She’s getting old and frail, it’s taken a lot out of her the last 10 years. So we’re finished now.”

The brother of an IRA man, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he had grave doubts about the ICRIR, and he told The Epoch Times: “You can bring soldiers or policemen to the dock or get them to make statements but you will never get an IRA man to do that. They will not incriminate themselves. They just don’t trust the process. Would you?”

Earlier this month the chief constable of the PSNI, Jon Boutcher, told a Policing Board meeting it would not be possible to complete the disclosure process for all legacy inquests before the guillotine date.

The disclosure process involves documents being released but only after they are redacted to remove material which remains secret on the grounds of public interest immunity.

Chief Constable Bemoans ‘Timescale’

Gerry Kelly, a former IRA man and one of Sinn Fein’s representatives on the Policing Board, complained about the time disclosure was taking.

Mr. Boutcher, who was appointed in October 2023, said: “The timescale is not ours. The timescale has been forced upon us, forced upon those coroners conducting those inquests.”

“Everything that we can do we are doing to service the needs of the coroners, whether it’s resourcing my time because I have to do the public interest immunity certification. I make the time and I turn them around immediately. I go through each case very carefully, but there is no delay,” he added.

Mr. Boutcher said: “What I said to myself before Christmas [was] we’ll have to try and do in the next 25 weeks what we’ve not done in the last 25 years and frankly that’s not possible. But we will do what we can and I want the families to know that we are doing what we can.”

Fiona McElroy, a former Whitehall adviser, told The Epoch Times: “The Legacy Act creates a two-tier justice system if your loved one died during the Northern Ireland Troubles. It says the right to seek an inquest as enshrined in UK law no longer applies to you. Families should be entitled to the truth just as citizens in England, Scotland, and Wales are.”

She said: “The government and state agencies have frustrated the process at every step, unwilling to disclose information they hold. It’s unlikely the commission will be able to compel them and without the truth there will not be full reconciliation which all victims’ relatives deserve.”

PA Media contributed to this report.
Chris Summers is a UK-based journalist covering a wide range of national stories, with a particular interest in crime, policing and the law.
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