Former para tells Ballymurphy inquest: We showed great restraint during rioting

The shootings took place in 1971
The shootings took place in 1971
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A former paratrooper has insisted they showed “great restraint” during prolonged rioting in an area of west Belfast in 1971 before opening fire.

The witness, who has been granted anonymity and is referred to as M5O6, had been stationed at a school which was serving as a temporary army base on August 9, 1971.

On that night, six civilians, including a priest, were shot dead.

Rioting had been ongoing since early on August 9 after the British army moved into republican areas across Northern Ireland to arrest IRA suspects after the introduction by the Stormont administration of the controversial policy of internment without trial.

The incident was part of a three-day series of shootings from August 9-11 which has become known as the Ballymurphy Massacre.

A new inquest at Belfast Coroner’s Court is examining the deaths of 10 civilians, including a mother of eight, across the three days.

Claims that IRA gunmen were in the area at the time have been disputed during the inquest hearings.

On Friday, the inquest heard from a former member of the Parachute Regiment who had been on duty in the area on the evening of August 9.

He insisted that after 16 hours of rioting, soldiers did not open fire until their base came under fire.

M506 told the inquest that a bullet came through the window of the sangar on top of Vere Foster school where he had been stationed that evening.

“Quite a lot of the guys were married to local girls and I think that’s why they showed great restraint,” M506 told the inquest.

“Considering that rioting had been going on since possibly 5am, 16 hours of rioting, great provocation and I think they really put up with a lot of provocation for all that time.

“I think the change came when gun fire started coming into our base.

“I know Paras don’t get a great press from certain parts of the community but they weren’t as bad as people make out.

“They showed great restraint, these guys didn’t come here for a killing mission.”

M506 said he did not fire his gun that day.

His evidence was adjourned on Friday afternoon to a date which has yet to be fixed.

The inquest continues.