Northern Ireland

Michelle O’Neill: Kingsmill families deserve truth, justice and a public inquiry

Kingsmill inquest ‘underlines need to deal with past properly’ Stormont First Minister warns

Michelle O’Neill said the Executive’s key priorities include childcare and reducing hospital waiting lists
Michelle O’Neill said she is sorry 'for every loss of life throughout the conflict'. (Liam McBurney/PA)

Michelle O’Neill has said the families of 10 men killed in a sectarian attack by the Provisional IRA at Kingsmill in 1976 deserve truth and justice.

The Sinn Féin vice president made her comments after unionist parties called for a public inquiry and criticised her party for its failure to engage with the Kingsmill inquest.

A long-running inquest last week concluded that the shooting dead of the 10 Protestant workmen as they travelled on a minibus home from work at Kingsmill in Co Armagh was an “overtly sectarian attack by the IRA”.

While it was claimed by a little-known paramilitary group calling itself the South Armagh Republican Action Force, coroner Brian Sherrard concluded that the Provisional IRA was responsible.

He also heavily criticised the IRA, and its political representatives, for failing to engage with the proceedings.

Alan Lewis -        12-4-2024
Speaking after the verdict at the Belfast Coroners Court, Alan Black, the sole survivor of the gun attack in which ten protestant workmen were shot dead in the Kingsmill Massacre in January 1976.
The coroner in a marathon judgement found that it was the IRA that carried out the sectarian massacre despite them never claiming responsiblity. 
Karen Armstrong, whose brothe John McConville died, and Mr Black, speaking outside court on behalf of the bereaved families, called for a full public inquiry.
Alan Black, the sole survivor of the gun attack in which ten Protestant workmen were shot dead in Kingsmill in January 1976, speaks following the conclusion of the inquest into the massacre. PICTURE: ALAN LEWIS/PHOTOPRESS (Alan Lewis - Photopress Belfast/Photopress Belfast)

The sole survivor of the shooting, Alan Black, and relatives of one of the victims have called for a public inquiry, insisting the coronial proceedings had failed to answer their questions.

Ms O’Neill described last week - which also saw the inquest findings into the deaths of three IRA members at the hands of the army at Coagh, Co Tyrone, and also a challenge by government to an inquest into the death of GAA official Sean Brown - as “very bruising”.

“Let me be again categorical, I am sorry for every loss of life throughout the conflict, but my job as a political leader of today is to build towards the future, is to try and help to heal the wounds of the past,” she told reporters in Belfast.

The first minister said the Kingsmill inquest “underlines why we need to deal with the past properly”, and criticised the British government’s legacy act as “driving a coach and horses through the desires, wishes and needs of all families”.

“That includes the Kingsmill families who deserve truth and justice, who deserve a public inquiry, who deserve answers, but for my job as leader of today, I speak for Sinn Féin, I speak as first minister in front of you today, I am sorry for every lost life including those in the Kingsmill disaster,” she added.

Meanwhile, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has called on UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to apologise for the actions of British agents within the IRA.

His call at Wednesday’s Prime Ministers Questions at Westminster referred to the recently published interim Operation Kenova report on the activities of the top agent known as Stakeknife who worked within the IRA’s internal security unit tasked with identifying informers.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood
SDLP leader and Foyle MP Colum Eastwood. (Oliver McVeigh/PA)

The Foyle MP said the IRA had been “riddled with British agents, from top to bottom” who were involved in the “abduction, torture and murder of British and Irish citizens”.

He said the British government of the time, and successive governments, “knew all about it and did nothing”.

“The report also calls for an apology from the government to the victims. Will the prime minister take the opportunity to make that apology?” he asked.

Mr Sunak said the government is unable to comment until the final Kenova report is published.

However, he added: “The overwhelming majority of police, armed forces and intelligence services served with great distinction. They defended democracy in the face of some horrendous violence, and without their service and their sacrifice there would be no peace process.”

Speaking afterwards, Mr Eastwood said the prime minister was “given the opportunity to contribute to reconciliation and help victims and survivors”, adding: “It is indefensible that he refused it.”