Statement by Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin re Motion on the Ballymurphy Massacre

Published on: 15 July 2015

Ceann Comhairle on behalf of Fianna Fáil I would like to again sympathise with the relatives who lost their loved ones in Ballymurphy in West Belfast nearly 44 years ago.

Those horrendous 36 hours between the 9th and 11th August in 1971 will never and should never be forgotten.

Fianna Fáil fully supports all the relatives in their quest for the truth.

The families actually know the truth but what they actually want is official acknowledgement of the truth.  There is no justification whatsoever for the refusal to grant them this fair and reasonable demand.

We all remember the response from Prime Minister Cameron when he received the full 5000 page Saville Report in June 2010. He spoke very eloquently and honestly about what happened during the troubles and he actually said what happened was wrong and that he was sorry.  He said the events of Bloody Sunday were “unjustified and unjustifiable”.

He also said “Some members of our armed forces acted wrongly .The government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of our armed forces and for that, on behalf of the Government –and indeed our country –I am deeply sorry”.

The other significant comment Prime Minister Cameron made that day was that “for me Bloody Sunday and the early 1970’s are something we have learned about rather than lived through. But what happened should never have happened.”

There is no basis for supporting the Bloody Sunday Inquiry on one hand and rejecting one on the Ballymurphy Massacre.

The Ballymurphy families have lived through the last 44 years missing their loved ones knowing what happened should not have happened.

They deserve and should get an independent panel of inquiry to investigate and like the relatives of those who were murdered on Bloody Sunday should be allowed to be ‘set free’. This independent panel of inquiry would not take 12 years like the Saville Inquiry did and costs could be kept to a minimum – though time and costs have no legitimate place in discussing this important principle.

Thirty years of violence led to many atrocities.  In overcoming the horrible legacy of that violence there is no substitution for an honest and open statement of what happened.  Unfortunately what we have been seeing is a battle of narratives – where the truth is something demanded of other people.  Selectivity in investigating the past is the enemy of the truth.  It reinforces divisions and erects a barricade to prevent reconciliation.

From the start the role of the Irish Government, especially when it was led by Fianna Fáil has been to take the unique position of demanding openness to everyone – and showing this in relation to the activities of our state during the years of violence.

This must continue to be the policy of Dáil Éireann and of the government we elect.  We must stand against the sectarian search for accountability for others and stand for accountability for all.

In the early 1970’s tensions were high in Northern Ireland and the British government at the time had introduced internment without trial. There were thousands of British troops across the six counties who were arresting people and interning them without trial.

Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment took over the community centre in Ballymurphy. This was known as Henry Taggart Memorial Hall. This was where ‘Operation Demetrius’ was being managed from and it actually produced some of the most intense violence.

This was a small neighbourhood .Even though there were many tragic occurrences on all sides of the divide in the North during the Troubles Ballymurphy was one of the most appalling and controversial.

At the start of  ‘Operation Demetrius’ 18 people from this community were grabbed and removed from their own homes, taken to the hall and beaten up before they were removed to another location.  This caused a huge stir and barricades were put up and panic buying started. Because of the obvious aggression by the soldiers people were preparing for the worst.

There were ten people murdered and one more who died from heart failure following the brutal attacks. Witnesses say he was cruelly subjected to a mock execution by soldiers and then got a heart attack.

None of the people who were killed were armed.  At the time there was no international condemnation of the killings.

One was a priest Father Mullan who had actually rang the Army to inform them that soldiers were shooting at civilians. This was before he himself was shot twice while giving the last rites to one of the victims.  Another, Mrs Joan Connolly who was a mother of eight children was shot in the face. Another man Noel Philips was just 20 years of age when he was shot dead unarmed.

Daniel Teggart was shot as he attempted to cross open ground in front of an army base and as he lay on the ground he was shot several times more.

It has been described as a prolonged killing spree by soldiers of the Parachute Regiment just as a few months before the same regiment massacred protestors on Bloody Sunday in Derry.

Unfortunately there were no journalists or camera crews present in Ballymurphy between the 9th and 11th August when these killings occurred. The Provisional IRA said at the time that no shots were fired at the Parachute Regiment during these 36 hours in 1971.  By any yardstick there is no possible justification for these murders by British troops.

Relatives have fought with dignity for the past 44 years for an independent panel of inquiry and have submitted detailed proposals to both the Irish and British governments as well as the political parties in the Northern assembly.

Indeed I had the honour of meeting the relatives when I visited the Ballymurphy site in May 2010 as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Northern Ireland .I want to also welcome to the gallery today.

It is through the relatives own ingenuity that they approached the Attorney General for Northern Ireland in November 2011 and made an application to reopen the inquests under section 14 of the Coroners Act 1959 .The Attorney directed that the Coroner reopen the inquests into the deaths. This will not have the statutory independent type of powers that will be able to truly examine the circumstances as well as having compellability powers.  The families do not want to go down another cul-de sac.

There have been some reports carried out on the Ballymurphy massacre but none of them actually address the true concerns of the families involved. There are direct contradictions to the soldiers who were interviewed about the events from witnesses.

These were members of the nationalist community that were brutally taken in the prime of their lives.  The RUC performed an investigation at the time but only allowed members of the Royal Military Police to interview the troops involved.

The soldiers maintained they were reacting to terrorists and that some of the deceased were gunmen and others were just caught in the crossfire .There was never any evidence found of any arms on the deceased. The RUC did not do an investigation themselves. There was never an inquiry done where compellability was required.

The shadows of the past will never be truly dealt with unless the nettle is grasped and an independent inquiry set up.

We all accept that victims of the Dublin/Monaghan bombings, Justice for the Forgotten, the Disappeared, the Kingsmill massacre, East Fermanagh and the Enniskillen bombings all need and deserve to know the truth. There has to be a genuine effort at senior political level to address this glaring anomaly.

There are families on both side that have been left bereft of the basic right to know what happened to their loved ones and who was responsible.  Until we address the rights of all sides to seek and get the truth we cannot fully deal with our island’s past.

Commitments has been made on how to deal with the past in the latest Stormont House Agreement these commitments cannot be treated flippantly nor can they be used as an excuse not to do the right thing.

The British government have refused to set up an independent panel of inquiry into the Ballymurphy massacre and this is disappointing to say the least. There is all party support for an independent panel of inquiry in the Oireachtas and the Taoiseach has said numerous times since 2011 that he also favours one.

Since 2012 the economic and social position of Northern Ireland has deteriorated.  We have had a succession of political crises.  Sectarian tensions have risen.  Political participation has declined.  Alienation has grown.  Issue after issue is being left to fester and we are returning to a damaging cycle of crises.  This has to stop – and a genuinely open and honest reckoning with the past has to be a part of this.

The relatives of the Ballymurphy families in their submission requesting an independent panel of investigation referred to the British government funded work of the Hillsborough Independent panel which would allow disclosure of documents add to the public understanding of how the murders occurred.

It would also be able to help to “create a public archive of all documents reviewed by an independent panel which would establish evidence base on which further legal actions and new inquests could be progressed”.

This motion which Fianna Fáil, has submitted amendments, to will not be a genuinely all-party motion until the Taoiseach acknowledges the inputs of others and accepts that we need a strong statement that the British government must face its responsibilities and grant a genuinely independent inquiry.

The first five years of David Cameron’s premiership was marked with an eloquent statement on Bloody Sunday and a general disengagement with Northern Ireland.  The refusal to allow transparency about these events of 44 years ago marks a return to a defensive and damaging approach to the past.

The paramilitaries maintain the strategy of self-justification and covering up their worst excesses.  Political parties continue to exploit sectarian tensions.  It is up to the governments to take the lead and fully embrace the ever more urgent need for openness and honesty about the past.

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