Northern Ireland news

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson told to 'come out of hiding' and meet Ballymurphy families

(left to right top row) Joseph Corr, Danny Taggart, Eddie Doherty, Father Hugh Mullan, Frank Quinn, Paddy McCarthy, (left to right, bottom row) Joan Connolly, John McKerr, Noel Philips, John Laverty and Joseph Murphy, who were all gunshot victims of the Ballymurphy massacre in west Belfast in 1971. Picture by Ballymurphy Massacre Committee/PA Wire

BRITISH Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been told to "come out of hiding" and meet the families of 10 "entirely innocent people" shot dead in west Belfast during an army operation 50 years ago.

Mr Johnson did not attend the House of Commons yesterday for the formal government apology for the 1971 Ballymurphy killings.

Opposition MPs criticised him for failing to follow the example of former Conservative prime minister David Cameron who delivered the apology for the events of Bloody Sunday himself from the dispatch box.

Instead Secretary of State Brandon Lewis told the House that Mr Johnson is writing personally to the families, having already "apologised unreservedly on behalf of the state" to Northern Ireland's First and Deputy First ministers.

He did not rule out prosecutions for the unlawful killings, saying that "would be a matter for the prosecution service"

Reading out the names of each victim, Mr Lewis said "the findings of the coroner are clear, those who died were entirely innocent of wrongdoing".

"The events at Ballymurphy should never have happened.

"The families of those who were killed should never have had to experience the grief and trauma of that loss.

"They should have not had to wait almost five decades for judgment this week, nor been compelled to relive that terrible time in August 1971 again and again in their long and distressing quest for the truth."

The Secretary of State acknowledged "there is no doubt that what happened on those awful few days in Ballymurphy also fuelled further violence and escalation, particularly in the early years of the Troubles".

"The government profoundly regrets and is truly sorry for these events and how investigations after these terrible events were handled, and for the additional pain that the families have had to endure in their fight to clear the names of their loved ones."

Read more: Analysis: Justice denied teaches patience is a powerful thing

Ian Knox cartoon 14/5/21 

But SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Mr Johnson should meet the families himself, saying the killings - such as that of mother-of-eight Joan Connolly who was left "for hours to die" after being shot four times by the British army was "not an error, that is sheer bloody murder".

"Will the Secretary of State ask the Prime Minister to come out of hiding, come with me, meet the Ballymurphy families and tell them to their faces why he wants to protect their killers?" the Foyle MP asked.

Mr Lewis replied "obviously, we will be considering that report in more detail in the period ahead in order to ensure that we are able to reflect properly on that report".

He said "it is right that we take accountability for the actions that were unacceptable".

Shadow Secretary of State Louise Haigh was among those calling for Mr Johnson to face the house over the shootings.

She repeated the names of those killed, adding Paddy McCarthy whose death of a heart attack was not included in the inquest and said the fact families "have had to wait for so long to clear their name is a profound failure of justice".

"Burying the truth, refusing to prosecute or investigate crimes has not worked in the 23 years since the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement."

Ms Haigh warned "addressing legacy through an unilateral amnesty from Westminster without the faintest hint of consultation with victims, the support of communities, any political party in Northern Ireland or the Irish government will be impossible to deliver".

There were calls from MPs for the government not to proceed with plans for a "time bar" on prosecutions for Trouble's deaths.

Mr Lewis replied its `amnesty' plans are "not about having a time bar, but making sure families don't have to wait decades" for answers.

He told the House that there have been discussions with the Irish government about future plans for truth recovery and reconciliation.

Read more: Analysis: Justice denied teaches patience is a powerful thing

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