Johnson apologises to Ballymurphy families in House of Commons

Relatives again critical of British prime minister for shortcomings in statement

The British prime minister has made a public apology in the House of Commons to the families of the 10 people killed in the Ballymurphy massacre.

Boris Johnson read out the names of the 10 victims and said they had been found “entirely innocent” at an inquest last week.

He said that on behalf of “successive governments, and to put on the record in this house, I would like to say sorry for to their families for how the investigations were handled and for the pain they’ve endured since their campaign began almost five decades ago.

“No apology, Mr Speaker, can lessen their lasting pain,” Mr Johnson said. “I hope they may take some comfort in the answers they have secured and in knowing that this has renewed the government’s determination to ensure in future that other can find answers with less distress and delay.”


However relatives of those killed rejected the apology, pointing out that Mr Johnson had not said sorry for the killings themselves.

John Teggart, whose father Daniel was among the victims, said that once again the families had learned about the apology from journalists and described Mr Johnson’s words as “nothing new”.

“It’s like coming back to get his homework checked, this is the third attempt and every time you look it it you just have to say, wrong again,” Mr Teggart said. “He needs to go away and try a bit harder.”

He said that if Mr Johnson truly wished to make amends he should start a police investigation into the Ballymurphy killings. “He didn’t apologise for the massacre, he apologised for the investigation; well, there was no investigation . . . [he should] order the PSNI to initiate an investigation into what happened in Ballymurphy.

“We don’t want his apologies. We don’t want to hear from him again, we don’t want to meet him.”


Mary Kate Quinn, whose uncle John Laverty was killed, said the families had not asked for an apology and did not want one.

“The only words I want Boris Johnson to say is that he will not give an amnesty to the British soldiers that murdered my uncle John and his nine neighbours.”

Ten people were shot and fatally injured in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast 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 that it she could not reach a judgment about the 10th.

In the past week a succession of apologies by Mr Johnson and by the Northern secretary, Brandon Lewis, have been rejected by the Ballymurphy families, who have been angered by the manner, timing and content of the statements and for their failure to acknowledge responsibility for the killings themselves.

“He didn’t apologise for the killings, he apologised for how the investigations were handled, and that is the most insulting part,” said Ms Quinn.

“After the inquest verdicts we went to sleep with a full heart last Tuesday night and we were awoken on Wednesday with all of this, and it’s just spiralled from them on.

“It’s been a time when we can’t catch our breath, and it feels like we haven’t been allowed to grieve or to feel all the emotions we would naturally feel given what happened [at the inquest] last Tuesday, and it just adds to the injustice of it all.”

Downing Street said last week that Mr Johnson had apologised to the North’s First and Deputy First Ministers in a call, and the following day Mr Lewis made a statement to the House of Commons in which he said the UK government “profoundly regrets” and was “truly sorry” for “events” in Ballymurphy.

He faced criticism for the use of the word “events” to describe the killings and was questioned over the British prime minister’s failure to appear in person to deliver the apology.

Mr Johnson subsequently wrote to the families “to express personally how sorry I am for the terrible hurt that has been caused to you and all of the other families who lost loved ones in Ballymurphy.”

On Wednesday the West Belfast MP, Sinn Féin’s Paul Maskey, said Mr Johnson’s “half-hearted apology” had only added to hurt and trauma felt by the families.

SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood said Mr Johnson’s statement was “no apology for the murder of people in Ballymurphy”, adding “it is increasingly clear that his government doesn’t care about truth, justice and accountability for victims and survivors”.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times