AN ongoing failure by gardai to disclose its files on the massacre of 10 workmen in Co Armagh, despite a pledge from the Taoiseach, is bordering on disgraceful, Belfast Coroner's Court has been told.
Lawyers for those bereaved by the Kingsmill murders in 1976 today heavily criticised officials in Dublin for not passing over the Garda documents, over two months after Enda Kenny publicly committed to the handover.
Fiona Doherty QC, who represents the sole survivor of the attack Alan Black, was scathing in her assessment after the coroner's court was told the state solicitor's office in the Republic had written to say it was not in a position to give a date for disclosure.
"This is a matter of deep regret," she said. "It is bordering on disgraceful that An Taoiseach's commitments have been allowed to fall by the wayside."
She said Mr Kenny's pledge had raised "considerable expectation" among the families.
"Those expectations to date have been dashed," she said.
The murders, which were widely blamed on the IRA though the organisation never admitted responsibility, involved a cross-border element, with the vehicle used by the killers both stolen and then dumped in Co Louth.
Mr Kenny's remarks seemed to end months of uncertainty over whether the new inquest would be able to access the potentially crucial Garda papers.
Barrister Neil Rafferty, acting for Beatrice Worton whose son Kenneth was killed, told coroner John Leckey that without the Garda files the inquest could only investigate "half of the story".
"My clients and other families met An Taoiseach in March and face-to-face, eye-to-eye were told this material would be looked at, it would receive full co-operation and it would be with your office within two weeks," he said.
"Quite simply my elderly clients can't reconcile what someone like An Taoiseach says and the correspondence that your officials have received from the solicitors in Dublin.
"We can't reconcile that at the highest political level we are told this will receive full co-operation yet when it gets to the official solicitor's offices not one paper clip, not one sheet of paper, has made its way north."
Mr Rafferty said his clients did not blame Mr Kenny.
"There is the political will at the highest level to co-operate," he said. "But at a lower level there seems to be an inexplicable delay in co-operating."
Mr Leckey, who in March welcomed Mr Kenny's statement, said the Taoiseach would not have made such comments lightly.
"When the Taoiseach said what he said it wouldn't have been off the cuff remarks, they would have been considered," he said.
The latest letter from the lawyers in Dublin who are handling the disclosure said "outstanding issues" still had to be resolved before a date for handover could be fixed.
Mr Leckey told his legal representatives to request that the state solicitor's office provide a firm timetable by the end of the month.
He said if none was forthcoming, he would consider raising the issue with Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers in a bid to resolve it with dialogue between the two governments.
The protestant textile workers were gunned down after a masked gang stopped their minibus close to the Co Armagh village of Kingsmill as they were travelling home from work.
They were forced to line up alongside the van and ordered to divulge their religion. The only Catholic worker was told to flee the scene while the 11 remaining workers were shot.
Mr Black, who survived despite being hit 18 times, was in court today.
No-one has ever been convicted of the murders.
Mr Leckey, Northern Ireland's senior coroner, is retiring in the autumn but as yet no successor has been appointed to the Kingsmill case.
The coroner raised concerns about the situation in April, noting that his departure would effectively leave only one coroner in Northern Ireland to deal with the series of outstanding complex legacy inquests relating to the Troubles.
There are fears the appointment of Mr Leckey's successor could fall victim to the hard hitting budget cuts currently being absorbed by Stormont's Department of Justice.
At today's preliminary inquest hearing, Mr Leckey said there had been no progress in resolving the issue.
He apologised to the Kingsmill families for the uncertainty the failure to appoint a replacement coroner had created.
"There needs to be someone appointed to be at the helm," he said.
"Unfortunately no information about that can be given at the present time despite contact being made with the Department.
"It is a very unfortunate state of affairs."