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Govt committed to Ballymurphy justice campaign

Following the Attorney General’s decision to hold new inquests into the deaths of 10 people who were shot dead in west Belfast in 1971, the Department of Foreign Affairs has reiterated its support for the victims’ families.

Relatives of those killed by British soldiers in 1971 at a press conference yesterday.
Relatives of those killed by British soldiers in 1971 at a press conference yesterday.
Image: Paul Faith/PA Wire/Press Association Images

THE IRISH GOVERNMENT has reiterated its commitment to support and assist the families of 10 people shot by the British Army at Ballymurphy in West Belfast in 1971 as they look for independent investigations into the deaths.

Speaking in the Dáil yesterday, Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs Jan O’Sullivan also said the Taoiseach is willing to meet with the families of the victims again.

Sinn Féin party leader Gerry Adams raised the issue as Northern Ireland’s Attorney General decided to hold new inquests into the deaths of 10 of the victims.

Despite claims from the British Army that it opened fire in response to activity byRepublican paramilitaries, the families have long been campaigning for independent inquiries.

The deaths occurred over three days in August 1971 during the army’s Operation Demetrius, which also involved the internment of people suspected of paramilitary activity. Yesterday, Adams argued that not one of the dead were armed or in any way part of an armed group.

Reiteration of support

The Ballymurphy Massacre Campaign was set up to co-ordinate efforts to seek justice for the victims.

O’Sullivan told the Dáil that officials from her department maintain regular contact with the campaign and its legal representatives. The Taoiseach first met with the families in June but has indicated he will do so again.

The government’s commitment to the campaign was welcomed by Sinn Féin.

Adams said he also welcomed the decision to hold new inquests, calling it a “landmark legal judgement that provides the families with an opportunity to get to the truth”.

He read the names of the 11 victims into the Dáil record yesterday. Among those killed were two teenagers, a priest and a 50-year-0ld mother of eight.

The death of the 11th victim – Pat McCarthy – was not investigated by the Coroner in 1971 because his death was recorded as a heart attack.

A spokesperson for the campaign said that they now know he suffered a heart attack and claim he was denied access to medical help which could have saved his life.

The killings at Ballymurphy – a housing estate in West Belfast – are currently being investigated by the historical inquiries team but the families have misgivings about the probe.

Commenting on the Attorney General’s decision, O’Sullivan said:

I hope these reopened inquests can help to uncover more details and provide some measure of closure. The Government remains committed to assisting the Ballymurphy Massacre Campaign in its search for justice and will continue to support it.”

In a statement, the families commended the Attorney General for showing “leadership and credibility” in his decision.

We feel that when he considered the facts surrounding the sham inquests which took place 40 years ago, his decision was the correct one,” they said.

Both Sinn Féin and the families have called for a reputable and independent international body to establish the creation of an Independent International Truth Commission.

Read more: Families of Ballymurphy victims meet First Minister Peter Robinson>

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