British government trying to distance itself from North’s past - MP

Families of Ballymurphy victims seeking Hillsborough-style inquiry

Families demanding an independent probe into three days of killings by the Parachute Regiment in Belfast in August 1971 are being stymied by the British government, which is trying to distance itself from the past, a Labour MP has declared.

In a presentation to MPs and Baroness Nuala O’Loan of the House of Lords in Westminster today, the families of the Ballymurphy victims said they are looking for an inquiry run on the lines of the probe into the Hillsborough stadium disaster, which cost £500,000.

Saying that the families "have a big hill to climb", Labour MP Michael Connarty, whose uncle was killed in a UVF bomb attack on a pub, said the soldiers involved in Ballymurphy were "carrying out the instructions" of the British government of the day.

Someone in authority in the British system cleared the way for the shootings, which were, he said, against the Geneva Convention, let alone any rules officially in place to govern conduct by the British Army.


Fellow Labour MP Stephen Pound said the killings of 11 people, including a Catholic priest, Fr Hugh Mullan had been "a calculated, deliberate action", which amounted to "slow, murderous, brutal and emphatic terror".

A Bloody Sunday-type inquiry has been ruled out by the British government on public interest grounds, though former Labour Northern Ireland secretary of state Paul Murphy said it should be pressed to explain the nature of those grounds.

A recent forensic report into the case of one of those killed, Joan Connolly, a mother of eight, shows conclusively that she would have survived if she had been given medical attention in time, the families' solicitor, Padraig O Muirigh told the Westminster meeting.

Declaring that “listening is not enough”, her daughter, Briege Voyle said “ordinary families have had to go out and investigate their own people’s murders, on their own door-steps” because no official investigation ever took place.

Contradictory accounts from the soldiers were gathered by the British Army 's military police, but no attempt was ever made to probe, while the Royal Ulster Constabulary never carried out any investigation into the killings.

Nearly 50 children lost a parent in the killings, while the families of some of those killed had to quit jobs, or move house because the British Army wrongly claimed that those killed had been members of the IRA shooting at soldiers.

Saying that her mother had never believed that she was in danger from British soldiers, Mrs Voyle said that her red-haired mother had “been wearing a white coat”, yet soldiers later claimed that she had shot at them with “a pistol, a 303 rifle and a machine-gun”.

The “inconsistencies” in the soldiers’ statements were not made available to a 1972 inquest; though a decision now by the NI Attorney General to order a new inquest will not answer all the questions because such probes are limited in what they can examine.

The independent panel proposed by the families would be chaired by the former NI police ombudsman, Nuala O'Loan and would have powers to see all documents held by the British Government, or any other body.

Following a viewing of a 20-minute video, SDLP leader, Alasdair McDonnell, who hosted the Westminster meeting, said it had “brought into sharp focus the need for a full inquiry”, which must commence “without any further delay”.

Labour's shadow Northern Ireland secretary, Mr Vernon Coaker said Ballymurphy highlights both the need and the difficulties associated dealing with Northern Ireland's past.

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy is News Editor of the The Irish Times