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Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald speaks to the media in Ballymurphy, Belfast, after meeting with the families of people who were killed in the Ballymurphy massacre Brian Lawless via PA Images
Ballymurphy Massacre

McDonald claims Johnson did not apologise over Ballymurphy killings during call yesterday

A No 10 spokesperson said Johnson “apologised unreservedly on behalf of the UK government” on the call.

SINN FÉIN LEADER Mary Lou McDonald has claimed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson did not, in fact, apologise for the killings that took place in Ballymurphy in Belfast in 1971 during a call with Stormont leaders.

Yesterday, a Downing Street spokesperson said that Johnson “apologised unreservedly on behalf of the UK government” during a call between him, 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.

However, speaking to reporters in Belfast this afternoon, McDonald claimed “there was no apology made” during yesterday’s phonecall. 

McDonald said the call had been convened to discuss the Covid-19 response and that it was a “very brief meeting of about 10 minutes duration”. 

“It was made clear in the course of the meeting that the Secretary of State would have some words in the Commons today, and the Prime Minister was challenged by Michelle O’Neill that the apology should come from him and should be made publicly,” the Sinn Féin leader said. 

“So no, there was no apology made.” 

An inquest into the shooting dead of ten people by the Parachute Regiment of the British Army in west Belfast found on Wednesday 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.

A spokesperson for Johnson yesterday said: “The Prime Minister spoke to the First Minister and deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill, this afternoon. 

“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.”

ballymurphy-inquest John Teggart, son of Daniel Teggart, who was among those killed, stands with other members of the Ballymurphy families, holding a letter from Prime Minister Boris Johnson Brian Lawless Brian Lawless

Letter from Johnson 

Earlier today, the Ballymurphy families angrily rejected a letter of apology from Boris Johnson expressing his personal sorrow for the “terrible hurt that has been caused” by the deaths of the 10 innocent civilians 50 years ago.

At a press conference in Belfast, relatives of those who died said the timing and the content of the letter was “disgraceful” and challenged the Prime Minister to come to the House of Commons and “speak to the world” about what happened in Ballymurphy.

The letter from Boris Johnson was received by the families just before Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis told the House of Commons that the British government was “truly sorry” for the killings.

The letter stated: “I unequivocally accept the findings of the coroner.

“Those who died over that terrible period were innocent of any wrongdoing. The events at Ballymurphy should never have happened.

“You should never have had to experience such grief at the loss of your loved ones and such distress in your subsequent quest for truth.”

He continued: “The duty of the State is to hold itself to the highest standard and that requires us to recognise the hurt and agony caused when we fall short of those standards.

“For what happened on those terrible few days in Ballymurphy, and for what the families have gone through since you began your brave and dignified campaign almost five decades ago, I am truly sorry.”

Janet Donnelly, whose father Joseph Murphy was shot, said: “He didn’t have the nerve to go in front of the House of Commons, he got Brandon Lewis to do it, why would we want to meet him?

“He didn’t apologise to us. Boris Johnson is head; he should give us the respect that we are entitled to and if he was any way sincere with his apology, he should have done it right and he should have done it himself.”

brandon-lewis-at-cabinet-office Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis Tayfun Salci Tayfun Salci

‘Truly sorry’

In his statement in the Commons, Brandon Lewis said: “The findings of the coroner are clear, those who died were entirely innocent of wrongdoing.

“The events at Ballymurphy should never have happened.

“The families of those who were killed should never have had to experience the grief and trauma of that loss.

“They should have not had to wait almost five decades for judgment this week, nor been compelled to relive that terrible time in August 1971 again and again in their long and distressing quest for the truth.”

He added: “There is no doubt that what happened on those awful few days in Ballymurphy also fuelled further violence and escalation, particularly in the early years of the Troubles.

“The government profoundly regrets and is truly sorry for these events and how investigations after these terrible events were handled, and for the additional pain that the families have had to endure in their fight to clear the names of their loved ones.”

Includes reporting by Press Association

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