IRA victims seek Ballymurphy style ‘truth and justice’

On the day the government formally apologised to the families of ten people killed by the army in Ballymurphy in 1971, a DUP MP and military veterans have called for other Troubles deaths to be investigated to the same standard.

Thursday, 13th May 2021, 4:34 pm
Updated Thursday, 13th May 2021, 5:09 pm

In the House of Commons on Thursday, NI Secretary Brandon Lewis said the conclusion of the inquest on Tuesday ended a “long and distressing quest” for truth.

“The findings of the coroner are clear – those who died were entirely innocent of wrongdoing,” he said.

In a letter the families, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said they should “never have had to experience such grief at the loss of your loved one and such distress in your subsequent quest for truth”.

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Relatives of the Ballymurphy victims met with Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald on Thursday. Picture: Jonathan Porter/PressEye

In response, Upper Bann MP Carla Lockhart asked Mr Lewis what government support will be available to the family of IRA victim Fred Anthony – a cleaner in Lurgan RUC station who was murdered on May 13, 1994.

She said: “As he travelled in his car along Hill St with his wife and two children, an IRA booby trap bomb exploded. Fred Anthony died. His three-year-old daughter spent a week in a coma, both her legs were broken and shrapnel lodged close to her brain. A life lost, a family destroyed.

“Mr Speaker no one has ever been charged in relation to this ruthless murder. The Anthony family who I spoke with this morning, like so many families of victims of the Provisional IRA, desire truth and justice. They look at the Ballymurphy findings and wish they too had been given the same resource to find truth as the Ballymurphy families who have fought hard and learned so much.”

Ms Lockhart added: “What is the Secretary of State’s message to the Anthony family today and what support can he give them to find truth and justice?”

Relatives of the Ballymurphy victims. Picture: Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Mr Lewis said he accepted that “the current system is not delivering for victims”.

The Justice for NI Veterans Original group’s legacy research team called for meaningful investigations into the deaths of seven soldiers shot dead by the IRA in the Ballymurphy area in the months following the deaths of the ten civilians.

“Where is the public outcry for our soldiers to be afforded the same justice as the families of Ballymurphy?” the group said in a statement.

“Let’s expand our campaign to have our soldiers deaths investigated in the same Article 2 compliant way as the Ballymurphy families. Justice for all and not for some.”

The Derg Valley Victims’ Voice (DVVV) group has also highlighted a lack of investigations and prosecutions in respect of 30 people murdered in the Castlederg area close to the Irish border.

In a social media message, DVVV said: “The republican movement... systematically gathered intelligence, targeted and murdered 30 people in the Derg Valley over a 30 year period. Twenty-eight were Protestants. 29 were from the area.

“All were innocent. There have been convictions in relation to just two of these murders.”

“The Irish state operated an open border policy allowing fleeing IRA terrorist gangs access to a territorial safe haven following murders and bombings.”

DVVV claims police in the Republic “colluded” with the republicans responsible and that the “Irish government continues to cover up its role in facilitating the ethnic cleansing of border Protestants. There has been no inquest or public inquiry into these murders.”

John Teggart, whose father was killed at Ballymurphy, said the verbal apology in the Commons yesterday should have come from the Prime Minister, not the NI Secretary.

“We expected this to come from Boris Johnson,” he said.

“We had Brandon Lewis on representing the British Government, without contacting us, without anything from Boris Johnson.

“Brandon Lewis is the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, we welcome his statement today as he is supposed to represent all in the north, but the right thing to do would be for it to come from the head of state Boris Johnson.

Mr Teggart added: “We’ll not be rushing him, just whenever he is ready he can come and speak to the families. This has annoyed the families, it has taken away our moment.”

The daughter of one of the victims said Boris Johnson “does not care” about people in Northern Ireland.

Referring to the apology delivered by Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, Briege Voyle said: “Why could Boris not do it, why could he not? It won’t bring my mummy back but at least you would have felt that you were being respected.

“One thing that annoyed me, they didn’t mention an investigation. Now we have to start again to try and find out why our loved ones were murdered. Why? They were innocent, my mummy was shot in broad daylight.”

Ms Voyle added: “I am saying to you now Boris, we need an investigation to find out why someone took it upon themselves to murder our loved ones on three days in Ballymurphy. You need to put the plan in motion for that to be done and it is the police who need to do it.”

Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken and DUP MP Ian Paisley have welcomed the government’s apology to the Ballymurphy families.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Paisley said: “This is a most heart-breaking affair. It cuts right to the quick of a divided city, a divided country, a divided people.”

Mr Paisley added: “As a Protestant man, as a unionist, as a loyalist, I stretch out my hand of love, of forbearance, of common grief and compassion to my neighbour who has suffered and I say to them that their tears and the sting of their tears is the same as the sting of our tears.

“There’s no difference in colour or feeling of that grief and we share that grief with them today in a heartfelt and compassionate way”.

In a statement, Mr Aiken said that “acknowledging hurt” is important.

“All who did harm must acknowledge the impact of their deeds,” he said.

“We have been consistent in our support for the rule of law and accept the coroner`s ruling regarding the Ballymurphy deaths and we hope it brings some comfort to the families. We think of them and the many hundreds of families across Northern Ireland who lost loved ones,” Mr Aiken added.

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald met the families in Belfast on Thursday and later said the PM had “botched” the apology.

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Alistair Bushe