Ballymurphy was a tragedy in all respects but it was not a massacre

A letter from Lucy Graham:

Thursday, 20th May 2021, 5:00 am
Letter to the editor

No-one can deny the pain of Ballymurphy families but I write to object to the constant nomenclature of ‘massacre’ in the media.

The family can of course brand their campaign in whatever way they choose, but this does not mean the media should conspire in the implied bias which such a word implies.

The context of these killings is crucial. As Mrs Justic Keegan pointed out in her findings, it was a time of widespread disorder, in a highly charged and difficult environment.

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She said that those killed were “innocent of any wrongdoing on the day in question”. The UK government have also made clear that events in Ballymurphy in August 1971 should never have happened.

It was a tragedy in all respects, but it was not a ‘massacre’. British soldiers did not just happen upon a bucolic scene of peace and harmony and mercilessly gun down ten people (that could indeed rightfully be deemed a massacre). Nor did soldiers set out to deliberately single out and kill catholic civilians.

Most soldiers patrolling Belfast in those years were barely out of their teens, despatched under orders to try and maintain order in a corner of the U Kingdom imploding after years of simmering community tension.

The importance of the words used by broadcast media and journalists cannot be understated. They can undermine factual reporting and perpetuate divisive, unhelpful and frankly inaccurate narratives.

Briege Voyle continually had one word on her lips this week — “Why?” Surely this single cry rings out from hundreds of homes and her tragedy and pain are shared across this small country and beyond as a result of the Troubles.

There is quite simply no answer to most of it, and probably never will be. But one thing is clear - however we end up trying to address this legacy of historic anguish, let’s be careful about the language we use.

Lucy Graham, Belfast BT4

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