United Kingdom

Boris Johnson apologises 'unreservedly' for 'Ballymurphy massacre'

The Prime Minister has 'apologised unreservedly' for the events that led to the deaths of 10 innocent civilians in Ballymurphy 50 years ago.

Boris Johnson made the apology on behalf of the UK Government during a phone call with Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill, the leader of Sinn Fein. 

A Downing Street spokesman said: 'He said the conclusions of the Ballymurphy Inquest, published yesterday, were deeply sad and that the events of August 1971 were tragic.

'The Prime Minister apologised unreservedly on behalf of the UK Government for the events that took place in Ballymurphy and the huge anguish that the lengthy pursuit of truth has caused the families of those killed.'

However, politicians in Northern Ireland criticised the way in which the apology was delivered.

And John Teggart, whose father Daniel was one of those killed, rejected what he called a 'third party apology' from Mr Johnson and questioned why the PM did not say sorry publicly.

The PM's apology came a day after coroner Mrs Justice Keegan found that the people killed in Ballymurphy in August 1971 were 'entirely innocent'. 

The Prime Minister has 'apologised unreservedly' for the events that led to the deaths of 10 innocent civilians in Ballymurphy 50 years ago. Pictured clockwise from top left: Joseph Corr, Daniel Teggart, Edward Doherty, Father Hugh Mullan, Francis 'Frank' Quinn, Joseph Murphy, John Laverty, Noel Phillips, John McKerr, Joan Connolly

Boris Johnson made the apology on behalf of the UK Government during a phone call with Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister and Sinn Fein leader Michelle O'Neill

The apology was also not referenced in either DUP or Sinn Fein statements following the virtual meeting which focused on coronavirus.

In a statement a Sinn Fein spokesperson said Ms O'Neill had challenged Mr Johnson to apologise to the Ballymurphy families.

They said she was told that Secretary of State Brandon Lewis was intending to make a statement around Ballymurphy at Westminster on Thursday.

Who were the ten people shot in the 'Ballymurphy massacre'?

Francis 'Frank' Quinn, 19, was shot while going to the aid of a wounded man.

Father Hugh Mullan, 38, a Catholic priest, was shot while going to the aid of a wounded man.

There is evidence that the priest had been waving a white item, either a handkerchief or T-shirt, at the time.

He had served a year in the Merchant Navy before being a priest in parishes in Belfast, County Antrim and County Down before going to Ballymurphy.

Joan Connolly, 44, a mother-of-eight, was shot as she stood opposite the army base.

It has been claimed she might have survived had medical help reached her sooner. She lay dying for several hours.

Her family had moved from a two-bedroom bungalow to a four-bedroom house in Ballymurphy in 1966.

Briege Voyle, one of Mrs Connolly's daughters, said her mother 'just couldn't get her head around' the Troubles.

The mother-of-eight had made tea and sandwiches for British soldiers at the family home.

Mrs Connolly had been out looking for her daughters - who were moved to a refugee camp during the unrest - when she died. 

Daniel Teggart, 44, was shot fourteen times.

Most of the bullets entered his back. 

It was claimed they were fired as he lay injured on the ground 

Noel Phillips, 20, was shot as he stood opposite an army base

Joseph Murphy, 41, was shot as he stood opposite an army base

He claimed to have been beaten and shot again in hospital while in the custody of officers 

Edward Doherty, 28, was shot while walking along a road

John Laverty, 20, and Joseph Corr, 43, was shot at separate points at the top of the same road 

John McKerr, 49, was shot outside a Catholic church

There was not enough evidence to determine where the shot that killed him came from, nor whether it was fired by the military or paramilitaries 

He died of his injuries nine days later on August 20

'Michelle O'Neill put it to Boris Johnson that he should apologise to the families of those killed in Ballymurphy by British state forces,' they said. 

Yesterday, Mrs Justice Kerrigan found that nine of the 10 Ballymurphy victims had been killed by soldiers, and found that the use of lethal force was not justified.

Mrs Justice Keegan also criticised the lack of investigation into the 10th death, that of John McKerr, and said she could not definitively rule who had shot him. 

Mr Teggart said it is an 'insult to the families' that Mr Johnson's apology came in a conversation with others.

'The apology was to third parties, it wasn't to the Ballymurphy families,' he told the BBC.

'It's not a public apology ... what kind of insult is it to families that he couldn't have the conversation with ourselves. His office couldn't come and speak to the families of what he was doing.

'That's not acceptable to the families and never will be. This is not an apology to us.'

Breige Voyle, whose mother Joan Connolly was killed in Ballymurphy, dismissed Mr Johnson's apology.

'Why are we only hearing about this now,' she said.

'Is he trying to sneak it in. I don't care about an apology, I want to know why, our loved ones were all completely innocent so why were they shot.

'His apology means nothing, we need him to go back to the MoD and tell them to tell the truth, tell our legal team the names of the soldiers who murdered our loved ones and ask them why.'

She said an apology by Mr Johnson in the House of Commons would have 'at least been a bit more respectful... as if he is holding us in a wee bit of respect but to do it this way is trying to push it under the carpet'.

Earlier, Ms O'Neill said the UK Government must apologise 'as a bare minimum' to the families of the civilians killed in west Belfast in 1971 in shootings involving the Army.

She said Tuesday had been 'a day for truth for the Ballymurphy families... but not a day of justice, and that's what the families now need to see'.

She added: 'That's for everybody - all families are entitled to truth, all families are entitled to justice, all families are entitled to know what happened to their loved ones.

'But what these families now deserve is access to justice,' she said.

Speaking alongside Ms O'Neill at a joint appearance at Clandeboye Golf Club in Bangor, Co Down, Mrs Foster recognised the Ballymurphy families' fight for 50 years to clear their names, adding there are many others who are continuing to fight for justice.

Mrs Foster emphasised that in terms of legacy in Northern Ireland, there should be a 'process where everybody can feel included'.

'The worst thing we could do is that some people are able to get truth around what happened to their loved ones and others are denied that truth and justice so I think we have to be very careful around that. 

'The worst thing we could do is that some people are able to get truth around what happened to their loved ones and others are denied that truth and justice so I think we have to be very careful around that.

'I want to see a process that includes everybody,' she said.

John Teggart, whose father Daniel was one of those killed, rejected what he called a 'third party apology' from Mr Johnson and questioned why the PM did not say sorry publicly

'There are many empty chairs right across Northern Ireland as a result of terrorism and I think those people deserve justice and truth just as the Ballymurphy families did.'

'Therefore, I think whatever the Secretary of State announces in relation to legacy must not take away that hope of justice, because the Ballymurphy families had a hope of justice for 50 years, and there are many others across Northern Ireland who will want to have that hope of justice as well, so I think the Secretary of State should listen very carefully to what is being said around all that right across Northern Ireland, because I think that that is really important.' 

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and Alliance Party leader Naomi Long also urged the Government to 'step up and formally apologise for the actions of the Army on the day in question'.

Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt said the shootings should not have happened, adding an apology 'swims in the shallow end of where we need to be'.

On Tuesday, Coroner Mrs Justice Keegan found that 10 people killed in Ballymurphy in August 1971 were 'entirely innocent' 

'I would rather we were in the deep end, and that means an acknowledgement not only of what happened, but of the hurt and the ongoing hurt that Ballymurphy caused... acknowledge it in words and in deeds,' he told the BBC's Stephen Nolan Show.

'Their campaign clearly isn't over, I think they will be going from truth to a search for justice, and they are totally justified to do that because we believe nobody is above the law, no matter what uniform they choose to wear.'

In 2010, former prime minister David Cameron apologised to the families of 13 civil rights marchers in Londonderry in 1972 who were fatally shot by soldiers after an inquiry found all were innocent.

Father Mullan, pictured, died aged 38 while other victims ranged in age from 20 to 50

Ms Long said: 'We saw how much a similar apology in relation to Bloody Sunday meant to the families there, and I encourage the Government to acknowledge the courage of the Ballymurphy families with a similar statement.'

On Tuesday evening, Mr Lewis acknowledged the hurt to the families of the 10 people killed, which included a mother of eight and a Catholic priest.

'The Government will carefully consider the extensive findings set out by the coroner, but it is clear that those who died were entirely innocent of wrongdoing,' he said.

A solicitor who represents the Ballymurphy families said they have instigated civil proceedings against the Ministry of Defence.

'In light of these findings and the strong criticisms, they will be pushing on with that,' Padraig O Muirigh said.

The shootings in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast came over three days from August 9-11 following the controversial introduction of internment without trial.

Soldiers were met with violence across Northern Ireland as they detained IRA suspects.

Mrs Justice Keegan acknowledged in her lengthy rulings that the killings took place in a 'highly charged and difficult environment'.

However, the presiding coroner said it was 'very clear' that 'all of the deceased in the series of inquests were entirely innocent of any wrongdoing on the day in question'.

Mourners are pictured here in Ballymurphy in August 1971 at a wake for Catholic priest Father Hugh Mullan, who was shot on the first day of violence on August 9. Witnesses said he had been performing the last rights when he was hit by a bullet

British troops, in the foreground, clash with demonstrators in Belfast in May 1981 during the Troubles in Northern Ireland

Earlier on Wednesday, Ms O'Neill said the UK Government must apologise 'as a bare minimum' to the families of the civilians killed in west Belfast in 1971 in shootings involving the Army.

Speaking the day after a coroner ruled that the 10 people killed in Ballymurphy nearly 50 years ago were 'entirely innocent', she said Tuesday had been 'a day for truth for the Ballymurphy families ... but not a day of justice, and that's what the families now need to see'.

She added: 'That's for everybody - all families are entitled to truth, all families are entitled to justice, all families are entitled to know what happened to their loved ones.

British soldiers are pictured in Northern Ireland at the time of the Ballymurphy massacre

'The British Government had been exposed yesterday for covering up for 50 years the fact that they killed Irish citizens on our streets.

'The British Government need to now respond.

'There are calls for an apology and I would obviously support that as a bare minimum.

'But what these families now deserve is access to justice.' 

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