Ballymurphy was an appalling tragedy which happened in a terrible context

News Letter editorial of Wednesday May 12 2021:

Wednesday, 12th May 2021, 6:51 am
Updated Wednesday, 12th May 2021, 7:37 am
News Letter editorial

The killing of civilians in Ballymurphy in August 1971 was a tragic and appalling series of deaths.

It was not properly investigated or resolved at the time. Now, belatedly, that has been rectified.

The Ballymurphy inquest was Northern Ireland’s largest ever. It was in many respects a huge public inquiry, although legally distinct from an inquiry, taking more than a year and using tiers of QCs and costing great expense.

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One of the worst things that can happen in society is for a civilian to be killed by the state. The security forces are there to protect people — as the army did protect people.

There were some shameful military Troubles killings but its overall record was outstanding. With the RUC, it stopped civil war.

The Ballymurphy inquest flagged up some of the problems with legacy investigations, one of the most important of which is the fact that terrorists did not keep records.

While soldiers can be identified and investigated, and are being so exhaustively in their old age, the most destructive and vicious Troubles organisation, the IRA, lies and lies.

We hear much about how internment in 1971 radicalised people, and it did, having been based on bad intelligence. But that course was taken after the upsurge in terrorism. The honeytrap murder of three Scottish soldiers in March that year was a calculated upping of the ante.

The Ballymurphy inquest struggled to get IRA witnesses. What a surprise. But soldiers are clear that they were operating in chaos those nights.

Such context is being lost in time.

The imbalance in Northern Ireland legacy probes against state forces is just as bad as it was when this newspaper ran Stop The Legacy Scandal series in 2018.

Now the UK is being criticised for acting unilaterally on legacy. It has not been unilateral enough.

Ireland has pushed republican legacy cases in Europe to embarrass the UK.

London should announce public inquiries into terrorism. It is not enough to wind down all investigations.

Legacy inquests like Ballymurphy are mainly into state killings, and just beginning.

They must have counterparts.

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Alistair Bushe

Editor