Reaction after inquest into highly controversial 1971 Ballymurphy killings

Reaction is seeping in after the inquest findings were returned by coroner, Mrs Justice Keegan, into the highly controversial killings, which happened in Ballymurphy on August 9 1971.

Tuesday, 11th May 2021, 3:10 pm

She said that “all of the deceased were entirely innocent of wrongdoing on the day in question”.

The British Army was found responsible for nine of the deaths of 10 people in Ballymurphy in August 1971, including a mother-of-eight and a Catholic priest following fresh inquests.

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The inquests into the deaths of 11 people in Ballymurphy in August 1971. 10 people died after being shot by the Parachute Regiment in the area with one more person dying after complications following a confrontation with soldiers.

Presiding Coroner Mrs Justice Keegan acknowledged it was a chaotic time but ruled that the use of force by soldiers had been “disproportionate” in the deaths the Army was found to have been responsible for.

She ruled out any paramilitary involvement by any of those killed, and described them as “entirely innocent of any wrongdoing on the day in question”.

Deputy First minister Michelle O’Neill said: “My first thoughts today are with the families of those killed in the Ballymurphy massacre. All were innocent and today their families have been vindicated.

“For five decades they have campaigned with dignity and determination for the truth about what happened to their loved ones and despite all the setbacks they have kept going with such resilience and resolve.

The inquests into the deaths of 11 people in Ballymurphy in August 1971. 10 people died after being shot by the Parachute Regiment in the area with one more person dying after complications following a confrontation with soldiers Family members of Frank Quinn pictured as they arrive at the Waterfront hall.

“Today is their day; it is a day for truth.

“What happened in Ballymurphy was state murder and for decades the British government have covered it up. Now the truth has been laid bare for all to see.

“But still this British government are attempting to slam the door to justice closed in the face of these families and others killed by the state or as a result of collusion.

“As the findings from the inquest were being read, the British government was announcing its plans to legislate to cover up its role in the conflict and to put current and former British soldiers beyond justice and the law.

Families of people who were killed at Ballymurphy in August 1971 arrive the International Convention Centre (ICC) in Belfast where the Nightingale Lagan court is sitting. The inquest was issuing findings after fresh inquests into the fatal shooting of 10 people in disputed circumstances involving the Army in west Belfast 50 years ago. A mother of eight and a Catholic priest were among those who were killed. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

“British state forces cannot be above the law. We must deal with the past, including the British state’s role, and the Stormont House Agreement must be implemented immediately.”

In a statement Bishop Noel Treanor, Bishop of Down and Connor said: “I welcome the publication today of the findings of the Ballymurphy Inquest and the unambiguous determination that ten innocent civilians were unjustly killed in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast in August 1971.

Our immediate thoughts and prayers are with the relatives of those who were killed. I have witnessed over many years their respectful dignity and fortitude as they have pursued and campaigned for truth and justice.

I have also been impressed by their strong sense of solidarity. These families who have been drawn together in sorrow and bereavement are also united in courage and hope. With the publication of the Inquest today, they have been vindicated in protecting the innocence of their relatives.

The inquests into the deaths of 11 people in Ballymurphy in August 1971

It is a sad indictment on our society and state that these families have had to listen to misinformation and untruth propagated about their loved ones for almost 50 years.

It was immensely humbling and moving to sit alongside the relatives of the Ballymurphy victims as they listened to the findings of the Inquest today. These families have sat through and listened to the harrowing and graphic evidence about how their loved ones died as well as how they were treated both before and after their deaths. These same families can now say with one voice that the truth has been heard. History will forever record the innocence of their loved ones.

I pay tribute to the integrity and professionalism of the coroner, Mrs Justice Keegan, who has delivered through this Inquest the truth sought by relatives for many years. It brings some consolation to the relatives of those killed and provides clear evidence that the Inquest system has a crucial role to play in addressing legacy deaths.

One of the victims, Fr Hugh Mullan, lost his life administering the Sacrament of the Sick to those who lay dying on the streets of Ballymurphy. With selfless pastoral devotion, Fr Mullan made the ultimate sacrifice and lost his life anointing his parishioners. Bringing consolation to the dying, Fr Mullan prayed, “Through this Holy Anointing, may the Lord in His love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit.” Fr Hugh courageously wanted those who were wounded and dying to know that God accompanied them in their hour of need.

It is my hope and prayer that those who suffered the loss of family and friends in the Ballymurphy Massacre may now begin to find peace and consolation in the truth.”

In another statement The Workers Party said: “The Workers Party has welcomed the findings of the Coroner’s inquest into the deaths of ten people in Ballymurphy almost 50 years ago and says it hopes that the families and friends of those killed can take some comfort from the fact that the circumstances surrounding their loved ones deaths have now been publicly and officially, acknowledged despite the appallingly long wait to have their names cleared.

The inquests into the deaths of 11 people in Ballymurphy in August 1971

“The relatives of those who died have conducted their campaign with dignity and tenacity and today they have received the recognition and the outcome that they deserve.

“The killings in Ballymurphy in 1971, and many, many more atrocities over the decades which followed, further underlines the rights of families of those killed during the ‘Troubles’ to full judicial scrutiny of all legacy murders and other serious crimes committed during the ‘Troubles’”.

Meanwhile responding to the delivery of the findings of the Coroner in the Ballymurphy inquest today, the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney TD said: “While we will need to examine the full detail of the Coroner’s statement, the principal findings have cast a tremendous new light on one of the darkest pages of the history of the conflict, and will come as an immense relief and vindication for the families who have maintained for decades that their loved ones were innocent and their killings unjustified.

Today’s historic developments wouldn’t have been possible without the determined campaign by the families of those killed in Ballymurphy for the truth of what took place in those terrible days in August 1971. I have met with the families during the course of their campaign and I want to acknowledge and pay tribute to that extraordinary achievement. All of them are in our thoughts today.

The deaths at Ballymurphy were part of the tragic legacy of the Troubles which saw the loss of over 3500 lives from all communities.

Every family bereaved in the conflict must have access to an effective investigation and to a process of justice regardless of the perpetrator. All victims’ families deserve support in securing all the information possible about what happened to their loved ones.

Only through a collective approach can we hope to deal with these issues comprehensively and fairly, and in a way that responds to the needs of victims and survivors, and society as a whole.”

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald described today’s inquest verdict as a vindication of the campaign of the families of all those killed by members of the Parachute Regiment in Ballymurphy 50 years ago.

She said, however, that today will be bittersweet as the British government will now attempt to block justice by walking away from their agreement with the Irish government on dealing with the past.

She said: “In August 1971, over a three-day period in Ballymurphy in West Belfast, 11 people were killed by members of the Parachute Regiment and, for the last five decades, the families have battled to get truth and justice.

“I want to commend them for their determination and to extend to them my solidarity and support.

“Today, after 50 years, the families have been vindicated and facts have been laid bare before the world. The families always knew the truth and people across Ireland always knew the truth and today it has been proven.

“But today will be bittersweet as the British government confirms that they will now attempt to block the families from getting justice, in defiance of an international agreement signed with the Irish government on dealing with the past.

“The Stormont House Agreement was about facilitating the pursuit of truth and justice in a balanced, transparent and fair manner.

“In February, members of the Dáil stood as one in calling for the British government to honour their commitment to introduce legislation to implement the Stormont House Agreement.

“British claims that Stormont House is not working are totally disingenuous. The reason that Stormont House is not working is because the British government have blocked it and have refused to introduce legislation to implement it. That is the problem.

“Their intention to now totally walk away from the Stormont House Agreement is totally unacceptable and it cannot go unchecked and unchallenged.

“Making agreements is important but keeping agreements is even more so. We will be raising this with the Taoiseach today, and it is critical that every political, diplomatic and legal option is now considered by the Irish government.”

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