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Ballymurphy Massacre: Boris Johnson 'apologises unreservedly' on behalf of UK government over killings

The Taoiseach has urged the British government to respond in a “comprehensive and fulsome way” to the inquest findings.

Image: PA

Updated May 12th 2021, 9:47 PM

UK PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson has “apologised unreservedly on behalf of the UK Government” for the killings that took place in Ballymurphy in Belfast in 1971.

A Downing Street spokeperson confirmed that the apology was made in a call between Johnson, Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill.

A statement said Johnson also recognised the “huge anguish” caused to the families of those killed.

In a statement this evening, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that the British government should “respond in a comprehensive and fulsome way” to yesterday’s verdict. Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, meanwhile, told RTÉ he hopes Johnson will find an opportunity to make this apology “publicly”. 

An inquest into the shooting dead of ten people by the Parachute Regiment of the British Army in west Belfast found yesterday that those killed were “entirely innocent”.

The shootings occurred during a period of civil unrest across Belfast and Northern Ireland following the introduction of internment in the early hours of 9 August 1971, which was codenamed by the British Army as Operation Demetrius.

“The Prime Minister spoke to the First Minister and deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill, this afternoon,” a spokesman for Johnson said this evening.

“He said the conclusions of the Ballymurphy Inquest, published yesterday, were deeply sad and that the events of August 1971 were tragic.

“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.”

The spokesman also said that Johnson signalled the British government’s intention to focus on reconciliation around the Troubles in a way that delivers for victims, but which would end the re-investigation of crimes committed during the era of violence.

“He stressed the importance of working hard to keep the gains made through the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and of all parties doing their utmost to help the victims’ families find out what happened to their loved ones, so that future generations are not burdened by the past,” the statement added.

Yesterday, a solicitor who represents the families of those killed at Ballymurphy said they had instigated civil proceedings against the UK’s Ministry of Defence.

Original inquests into the deaths held in 1972 returned open verdicts and the bereaved families subsequently pursued a long campaign for fresh probes to be held.

Fresh inquests into the deaths began in 2018, with the final oral evidence heard last March.

Speaking this evening, John Teggart, the son of one of the ten people killed, said Johnson’s apology was not a public apology, describing it as an “insult to the families” that it came during 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.”

Briege Voyle, whose mother Joan Connolly was killed in Ballymurphy, also dismissed Boris 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 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.”

Political reaction

In his statement this evening, Micheál Martin praised the “persistence” of the families of the Ballymurphy victims and said that the Irish government stood with them.

“I would encourage the British government to respond in a comprehensive and fulsome way to the finding that ten completely innocent people were shot and killed,” he said.

“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 was compounded by the untruths that were told about their loved ones.

Martin added that this should be done in a manner that respects the wishes of the families.

Earlier, Northern Ireland deputy first minister Michelle 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 yesterday 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.

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“The British Government had been exposed yesterday for covering up for 50 years the fact that they killed Irish citizens on our streets.

“The British Government need to now respond.There are calls for an apology and I would obviously support that as a bare minimum. But what these families now deserve is access to justice.”

Speaking alongside O’Neill at a joint appearance at Clandeboye Golf Club in Bangor, Co Down, First Minister Arlene 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.

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.”

- Contains reporting by Stephen McDermott

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