Son of Ballymurphy victim rejects Prime Minister’s ‘third party apology’

Ballymurphy inquest
Ballymurphy inquest (PA Archive)
22:08pm, Wed 12 May 2021
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The son of an innocent man killed by soldiers in Ballymurphy 50 years ago has rejected a “third party apology” from the UK Prime Minister.

John Teggart queried why Boris Johnson did not make a public apology.

A Downing Street spokesman said that in a conversation with First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, Mr Johnson “apologised unreservedly on behalf of the UK Government”.

Queen’s speech 2021 (PA Wire)

However the apology was not referenced in either DUP or Sinn Fein statements following the virtual meeting which focused on coronavirus.

In a statement a Sinn Fein spokesperson said Ms O’Neill challenged Mr Johnson to apologise to the Ballymurphy families.

They said she was told that Secretary of State Brandon Lewis was intending to make a statement around Ballymurphy at Westminster on Thursday.

“Michelle O’Neill put it to Boris Johnson that he should apologise to the families of those killed in Ballymurphy by British state forces,” they said.

On Tuesday, Coroner Mrs Justice Keegan found that 10 people killed in Ballymurphy in August 1971 were “entirely innocent”.

She found that nine of the 10 had been killed by soldiers, and found that the use of lethal force was not justified.

Mrs Justice Keegan also criticised the lack of investigation into the 10th death, that of John McKerr, and said she could not definitively rule who had shot him.

The Downing Street spokesman said the Prime Minister said the conclusions of the Ballymurphy Inquest were “deeply sad and that the events of August 1971 were tragic”.

The apology was to third parties, it wasn’t to the Ballymurphy families.

“The Prime Minister apologised unreservedly on behalf of the UK Government for the events that took place in Ballymurphy and the huge anguish that the lengthy pursuit of truth has caused the families of those killed.”

Mr Teggart said it is an “insult to the families” that Mr Johnson’s apology came in a conversation with others.

“The apology was to third parties, it wasn’t to the Ballymurphy families,” he told the BBC.

“It’s not a public apology … what kind of insult is it to families that he couldn’t have the conversation with ourselves. His office couldn’t come and speak to the families of what he was doing.

“That’s not acceptable to the families and never will be. This is not an apology to us.”

Ballymurphy inquest (PA Wire)

Breige Voyle, whose mother Joan Connolly was killed in Ballymurphy, dismissed Mr Johnson’s apology.

“Why are we only hearing about this now,” she said.

“Is he trying to sneak it in. I don’t care about an apology, I want to know why, our loved ones were all completely innocent so why were they shot.

“His apology means nothing, we need him to go back to the MoD and tell them to tell the truth, tell our legal team the names of the soldiers who murdered our loved ones and ask them why.”

She said an apology by Mr Johnson in the House of Commons would have “at least been a bit more respectful… as if he is holding us in a wee bit of respect but to do it this way is trying to push it under the carpet”.

The Taoiseach encouraged the British Government to respond in a “comprehensive and fulsome” way to the findings of the inquest.

Micheal Martin said the Irish Government continues to stand in solidarity with the Ballymurphy families as the 50th anniversary of the killings approaches and that the inquest findings are clear that the victims were “entirely innocent”.

He added that the persistence of their families had been “remarkable” and a tribute to their “absolute determination to establish the truth”.

Mr Martin said: “I would encourage the British Government to respond in a comprehensive and fulsome way to the finding that 10 completely innocent people were shot and killed.

“I would encourage them to acknowledge and affirm the innocence of the Ballymurphy victims.

“I would encourage them to understand the depth of the pain and grief felt by the families and how that pain and grief was compounded by the untruths that were told about their loved ones.

“This should be done in a manner that respects the wishes of these families.”

The country’s Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney welcomed the Prime Minister’s statement of apology, but said he hoped Mr Johnson will make that apology in “a more public way”.

Mr Coveney said: “It is welcome that the British Prime Minister has apologised but I certainly hope that the Prime Minister will now find an opportunity to make that apology publicly, either in the British parliament or directly to the families concerned, because that is the least the families deserve.

“They have waited 50 years to clear the names of their loved ones – 10 innocent people unarmed who were shot dead five decades ago – and I think an apology is appropriate and necessary and I hope it can be done in a more public way than has been the case to date.”

Earlier, Ms O’Neill said the UK Government must apologise “as a bare minimum” to the families of the civilians killed in west Belfast in 1971 in shootings involving the Army.

She said Tuesday had been “a day for truth for the Ballymurphy families… but not a day of justice, and that’s what the families now need to see”.

She added: “That’s for everybody – all families are entitled to truth, all families are entitled to justice, all families are entitled to know what happened to their loved ones.

“But what these families now deserve is access to justice,” she said.

Speaking alongside Ms O’Neill at a joint appearance at Clandeboye Golf Club in Bangor, Co Down, Mrs Foster recognised the Ballymurphy families’ fight for 50 years to clear their names, adding there are many others who are continuing to fight for justice.

Mrs Foster emphasised that in terms of legacy in Northern Ireland, there should be a “process where everybody can feel included”.

“The worst thing we could do is that some people are able to get truth around what happened to their loved ones and others are denied that truth and justice so I think we have to be very careful around that.

“I want to see a process that includes everybody,” she said.

“There are many empty chairs right across Northern Ireland as a result of terrorism and I think those people deserve justice and truth just as the Ballymurphy families did.”

Ballymurphy victims (PA Media)

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and Alliance Party leader Naomi Long also urged the Government to “step up and formally apologise for the actions of the Army on the day in question”.

Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt said the shootings should not have happened, adding an apology “swims in the shallow end of where we need to be”.

“I would rather we were in the deep end, and that means an acknowledgement not only of what happened, but of the hurt and the ongoing hurt that Ballymurphy caused… acknowledge it in words and in deeds,” he told the BBC’s Stephen Nolan Show.

“Their campaign clearly isn’t over, I think they will be going from truth to a search for justice, and they are totally justified to do that because we believe nobody is above the law, no matter what uniform they choose to wear.”

In 2010, former prime minister David Cameron apologised to the families of 13 civil rights marchers in Londonderry in 1972 who were fatally shot by soldiers after an inquiry found all were innocent.

Ms Long said: “We saw how much a similar apology in relation to Bloody Sunday meant to the families there, and I encourage the Government to acknowledge the courage of the Ballymurphy families with a similar statement.”

Ballymurphy families' supporters (PA Wire)

On Tuesday evening, Mr Lewis acknowledged the hurt to the families of the 10 people killed, which included a mother of eight and a Catholic priest.

“The Government will carefully consider the extensive findings set out by the coroner, but it is clear that those who died were entirely innocent of wrongdoing,” he said.

A solicitor who represents the Ballymurphy families said they have instigated civil proceedings against the Ministry of Defence.

“In light of these findings and the strong criticisms, they will be pushing on with that,” Padraig O Muirigh said.

The shootings in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast came over three days from August 9-11 following the controversial introduction of internment without trial.

Soldiers were met with violence across Northern Ireland as they detained IRA suspects.

Mrs Justice Keegan acknowledged in her lengthy rulings that the killings took place in a “highly charged and difficult environment”.

However, the presiding coroner said it was “very clear” that “all of the deceased in the series of inquests were entirely innocent of any wrongdoing on the day in question”.

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