Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Supporting the Ballymurphy Families

The decision by the British Secretary of State, the PSNI and the HET to try to prevent inquest and trial transcripts from being given to the families of three victims of the conflict has again focussed attention on the refusal of the British government to deal properly with victims and their families, and in particular the victims of British state violence.

Patrick McAdorey was killed by the British Army on August 9th 1971; Sarah Larmour was killed by the UVF on October 3rd 1979 and Michael Donnelly was killed by the British Army on August 9th 1980. Their families want to know what happened and why.

The Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure Caral Ni Chuilin sought and was given the go-ahead by the north’s Attorney General for the inquest papers and trial transcripts to be handed over to Relatives for Justice and to the families. All of these documents are already in the public domain and were reported in the media at the time.

Until 2012, these types of papers were routinely disclosed by the Public Records Office to relatives and their legal representatives.  That changed last summer, when the PSNI/HET attempted to introduce itself as a new gatekeeper over the disclosure of all such Public Records, without the permission or knowledge of the DCAL Minister.  That is at the heart of this latest issue.

The desire of the British state and its agencies to withhold information about its actions in the north is at the heart of this issue. Consequently, they sought and secured an injunction against any public dissemination of the files. We now have to wait until later on Thursday to find out what happens next.

This is not a new approach by the British government. Successive British governments have steadfastly refused to deal comprehensively with the issue of victims. Bloody Sunday was one example. This current court case is another. So too is the British refusal to deal honestly with the families of the Ballymurphy and Springhill massacres.
11 citizens from the Ballymurphy area, including a local priest and mother of 8 were killed by the Paras in a 36 hour period following the introduction of internment on August 9th 1971. They were among 20 people, including IRA Volunteer Patrick McAdorey, who were killed by the British Army in the north in the week after August 9th.

Five months later the same regiment killed 14 people in Derry and six months after that they returned to the greater Ballymurphy area and shot dead another five citizens, three of whom were children. They also killed another priest.
Last Sunday the relatives of the Ballymurphy victims held a march and rally to highlight their demand for truth. They and the Springhill relatives have demonstrated extraordinary courage and determination in the face of British secrecy and obstruction over many difficult years.

Their tenacity and resolve has seen the families compile significant evidence which shows that all who died were killed unlawfully and in breach of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The Ballymurphy case also raises serious questions regarding human rights abuses committed by the British Army and of the culture of impunity that allowed members of British state forces to routinely carry out violent actions without fear of being held accountable.

In November 2011 the families succeeded in persuading the newly appointed Attorney-General that new inquests should be held.

While this was a welcome development the families are understandably concerned about the limitations of an inquest to investigate the context, circumstances and aftermath of the deaths of their loved ones. They also have no confidence in the review of the deaths by the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) within the PSNI.

They question the independence of the HET and as the recent report by Professor Patricia Lundy concluded there is much that is wrong with the HET. The families have also met two British Secretaries of State who were less than helpful.

They have spoken to the Taoiseach and to Irish government officials but with little evidence that they are challenging the British position.

Undeterred by all of this the Ballymurphy families have proposed a new initiative to get to the truth. They are seeking the appointment of an Independent Panel to examine all of the documents relating to the context, circumstances and aftermath of the deaths of their loved ones.

The Panel would investigate the role of the British Government, British Army, and criminal justice agencies such as the RUC, DPP, the Coroner’s Office and the significance of the media; as well as secure the public disclosure of all of the available documents. It would publish a detailed, comprehensive report demonstrating how the disclosed documents add to public understanding of these events, their investigation and the consequences.

The families’ proposal is based on the terms of reference of the British Government funded work of the Hillsborough Independent Panel. I support their proposal. It is an innovative approach to the issue of truth and I would urge everyone interested in supporting the families to back their proposal and to join with them in demanding that the British government establish an Independent Panel.

However it is specific to these cases and will not help the hundreds of other families that have been bereaved or hurt. As the current court case involving Relatives for Justice demonstrates there is a need to construct a different approach, one which involves in the international community.

My experience in working with victims’ families has convinced me that only a statutory process of truth recovery facilitated by an acceptable international agency holds any prospect of addressing the needs of victims and families.

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