Boris Johnson’s apology ‘means nothing’, say Ballymurphy families

Relatives criticise British prime minister’s statement as it was not addressed to them

  Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued the apology on Wednesday. Photograph: PA Wire

Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued the apology on Wednesday. Photograph: PA Wire

 

Relatives of the 10 people killed in Ballymurphy in west Belfast in 1971 have rejected an apology from the UK prime minister to the North’s First and Deputy First Minister.

“It means absolutely nothing, because he didn’t come to us,” said Carmel Quinn, whose brother John Laverty was among the victims. “If an apology is to mean anything, it must be delivered to the families.”

John Teggart, whose father Daniel was killed, told BBC Radio Ulster it was an “insult” that an apology had been delivered to third parties.

“It’s not a public apology . . . what kind of insult is it to families that he couldn’t have the conversation with ourselves? That’s not acceptable to the families and never will be. This is not an apology to us.”

“His apology means nothing, we need him to go back to the MoD [ministry of defence] 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,” said Briege Voyle, the daughter of Joan Connolly, the only woman among the victims. “To do it this way is trying to push it under the carpet.”

Downing Street said in a statement on Wednesday evening that Boris Johnson had “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” during a call with Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill earlier that day.

Mr Johnson said the conclusions of the inquests into the deaths, which were published on Tuesday, were “deeply sad” and “tragic” and restated the UK government’s intention to “deliver a way forward in Northern Ireland that focuses on reconciliation, delivers for victims of the Troubles and ends the cycle of reinvestigations,” the spokesman said.

There has to be an investigation and accountability and then an apology comes after that,” said Ms Quinn.

“That’s what happened with Bloody Sunday, they had an investigation . . . and then they had their apology. We’ve just had our basic human right, an inquest.

“Instead of apologising, implement the Stormont House Agreement [on legacy],” she said.

“All killings need to be fully investigated, because every single person who lost a loved one in this conflict is entitled to truth, justice and acknowledgement.”

‘A more public way’

The Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he would encourage the British Government to respond in a comprehensive way to the finding that ten completely innocent people were shot and killed.

“I would encourage them to acknowledge and affirm the innocence of the Ballymurphy victims. I would encourage them to understand the depth of the pain and grief felt by the families and how that pain and grief was compounded by the untruths that were told about their loved ones.

“This should be done in a manner that respects the wishes of these families,” he said.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, welcomed the statement of apology from the UK prime minister, but said he hoped Mr Johnson will make that apology in “a more public way”.

“It is welcome that the British Prime Minister has apologised but I certainly hope that the Prime Minister will now find an opportunity to make that apology publicly, either in the British parliament or directly to the families concerned, because that is the least the families deserve,” Mr Coveney said.

“They have waited 50 years to clear the names of their loved ones - 10 innocent people unarmed who were shot dead five decades ago - and I think an apology is appropriate and necessary and I hope it can be done in a more public way than has been the case to date.”

Ten people were shot and fatally injured in Ballymurphy amid the serious violence which took place after the introduction of internment without trial on the morning of August 9th, 1971.

A coroner ruled on Tuesday that each of the victims was “entirely innocent”. Nine of the 10 had been shot by the British army, she said, and lack of evidence as a result of the failure to carry out a proper investigation at the time meant she could not reach a judgment about the 10th.

Confusion

In Northern Ireland, on Wednesday, there were increasing calls for an apology from the UK government from politicians including Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, Alliance Party leader Naomi Long and the Ulster Unionist Assembly member Mike Nesbitt.

However, there was confusion following the release of the Downing Street statement on Wednesday evening, which conflicted with statements issued by the DUP and Sinn Féin making no mention of an apology by the British prime minister. The DUP statement referred to discussions on Covid-19 and the Northern Ireland protocol, while that from Sinn Féin said they had discussed coronavirus and the Ballymurphy inquest findings.

Sinn Féin said the meeting had been informed that Northern Secretary Brandon Lewis was to make a statement at Westminster on Thursday, and Ms O’Neill had “put it to Boris Johnson that he should apologise to the families of those killed in Ballymurphy by British state forces”. Mr Lewis is due to deliver a ministerial statement to the House of Commons on Thursday.

Earlier on Wednesday, Ms O’Neill described any apology by the UK government as the “bare minimum” and said the families now deserved “access to justice”.

Same right

Speaking alongside Ms O’Neill at a joint appearance on Wednesday, First Minister Arlene Foster acknowledged the Ballymurphy families’ 50-year fight to clear their names and said other families had the same right to truth and justice for their loved ones.

“There are a lot of empty chairs around Northern Ireland and the brutality in the reality of our past is still very much with us,” she said.

“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.”