Northern Ireland news

Ballymurphy victims' relatives reject Boris Johnson 'third-party apology'

John Teggart, speaking after this week's inquest findings were made public .
Connla Young

The son of a man shot dead by British soldiers in Ballymurphy 50 years ago has rejected a “third-party apology” from Prime Minister Boris Johnson. 

John Teggart, whose father Daniel was among the victims of the August 1971 massacre, queried why Mr Johnson did not make a public apology.

There was confusion last night after Downing Street claimed that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had apologised unreservedly after a coroner found that the Ballymurphy Massacre victims were "entirely innocent".

A Downing Street spokesman claimed the apology was delivered when Mr Johnson spoke to First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill yesterday.

However, after the remote meeting neither Sinn Féin or the DUP referenced the apparent apology.

Relatives of the dead, who included a priest and mother-of-eight, and politicians had called for Mr Johnson's government to issue an apology.

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The ten victims were shot by British soldiers over three days at the introduction of internment in August 1971.

Earlier this week Coroner Mrs Justice Keegan found that all of the victims were "entirely innocent" and that British soldiers were responsible for the deaths of nine of those killed.

She also found that the use of lethal force by troops was not justified.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "He (Mr Johnson) 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."

The spokesman added: "The prime minister restated the 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."

However victims' relatives last night rejected the way in which the apology was delivered.

John Teggart, whose father Daniel was shot dead, last night said: "I think Boris Johnson has caused the families huge anguish now.

"I am sure there are people sitting at their radio and they would hear it for the first time as well.

"Family members are sitting angered. It has taken away all the feeling that we have had about having a good day yesterday," he told BBC NI.

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

"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, also 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.."

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".

After the meeting Ms O'Neill tweeted that she had spoken to Mr Johnson and "put to him that he should apologise to the families of those killed in Ballymurphy by British state forces".

"After 50 years of cover-up and lies they have been vindicated and their innocence declared," she said on Twitter.

"Attempts to deny access to justice reprehensible."

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis is expected to make a statement at Westminster today.

Earlier SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and Alliance Party leader Naomi Long both urged the government to “step up and formally apologise for the actions of the army on the day in question”.

First Minister Arlene Foster recognised the campaign for justice by relatives of those killed at Ballymurphy.

The outgoing DUP leader added that there should be a "process where everybody can feel included".

"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."

Solicitor Pádraig Ó Muirigh, who represents the majority of Ballymurphy families, said legal proceedings against the Ministry of Defence, have already been started.

"In light of these findings and the strong criticisms, they will be pushing on with that," he said.

Mr Teggart said "the civil case has been running simultaneously....and with the inquest over it strengthens the hand in the civil case.

"With the outcome on (Tuesday) it could be that is the next step," he said.

"That was initiated in London a couple of years back and is ongoing."

He also said he would expect the PSNI to launch an investigation into the killings.

"It's not as if we didn't approach them at any time during the inquest because they were approached," he said.

"They used the ongoing inquest as an excuse as to why they could not do certain things, or grant the families certain things."

Mr Teggart said that "now that the inquest has stated that the victims were entirely innocent the light (should be) shone on those responsible.

"It's up to them to start the investigation and we would hope to get a knock on the door soon."

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