Last weekend Channel 4 broadcast ‘Massacre at Ballymurphy.’ This is an abridged version of the ‘Ballymurphy Precedent’. It is a documentary film for cinema that examines the circumstances which led to the killing of 11 civilians by the Parachute Regiment in Ballymurphy in the three days after the first internment raids occurred on the morning of 9th August 1971.
The survivors and relatives of the victims give their first-hand accounts of the deaths of loved ones. Eleven people - ten men, including a local priest and a mother of eight children - were shot dead. 46 children were left without a parent. Their lives forever changed.
It was a story of tragedy and loss, of heroism and leadership. It exposed the lengths to which the British government went to cover up the actions of its troops. The lies they told and the willingness of some in the media to publish unchallenged claims that those killed were gunmen and a gun woman. It was an emotional film in which the relatives spoke calmly, passionately, honestly, about the circumstances that led to, and followed the massacre. For them, even after 47 years, the memories are still raw. They cried. Some clearly had difficulty telling their stories. But they all did – eloquently, powerfully and bravely.
In August 2009, when I was the MP for west Belfast, I arranged for the Ballymurphy relatives to meet the then British Labour Secretary of State Shaun Woodward one evening at Hillsborough Castle. We met in a large downstairs room, dominated by a long dinner table, which has occasionally doubled as a negotiating room during times of political crisis. It was an emotional meeting. Individual family members recounted what had happened to their loved one. Woodward was personally shaken by the accounts. It was clear that he believed the families. Their testimony was very powerful. I got very emotional myself and frustrated.
After some silly comment from one of the NIO officials, which I now can’t remember, I asked them to leave the room and we decided to end the meeting. Shaun Woodward was one of the more decent British politicians. He did some good things particularly on suicide prevention strategies which were developed by families affected by suicide. But he did nothing on the Ballymurphy massacre. I tackled him on this afterwards. I concluded that more powerful elements in the Brit system were not for budging.
The families also met with the Conservative Shadow Secretary of State Owen Paterson. In my opinion he also was genuinely concerned by what he was told. That meeting was in the Sevastapol Street Sinn Féin office. He also met with Pat Finucane’s family. I think he was shocked by what the ‘Murph families and Pat’s family told him. Again he did nothing.
The Ballymurphy families met Paterson again when he replaced Shaun Woodward. This meeting took place on 7thOctober 2010 in a room in Stormont House, where Britain’s Northern Ireland Office is based. The meeting lasted an hour. For the families the retelling of the deaths of their loved ones does not get easier. It was another emotional meeting. Paterson remained aloof. He sought to shift the issue onto the wider question of legacy and suggested that the families engage with the Historical Enquiries Team. None of the families, including some who had already worked with the HET had any confidence in that process.
To add insult to injury Paterson was wearing a wrist band that expressed support for the Royal Irish Regiment, formerly the Ulster Defence Regiment, a disgraced Regiment with known links to unionist death squads. I challenged him on his insensitivity. I might as well have been talking to the wall.Two years later on 20 June 2012 Paterson told the families that he was rejecting their appeal for an independent inquiry because it was “not in the public interest”.
The families made it clear to Owen Paterson that they were not for giving up. The Channel 4 film is evidence of that. The Ballymurphy families are determined to achieve their demands and to secure truth for their loved ones. On Monday a formal public hearing was held in the High Court. The judge expects the inquest to commence in the first week in November.
The Ballymurphy families deserve our solidarity and our support.
Almost a year after the Ballymurphy Massacre and six months after Bloody Sunday the Paras were back in Ballymurphy. On July 9th 1972 the ceasefire between the IRA and British government ended. Later that evening the British Paras opened fire into Westrock and Springhill, beside Ballymurphy. Within ten minutes five citizens had been shot dead. All the killings were in Westrock Drive. The dead were Margaret Gargan aged 13, David McCafferty aged 14, John Douglas aged 16, Paddy Butler aged 38, the father of six children, and local priest Fr. Noel Fitzpatrick who was helping them. Two local men were also seriously injured.
According to a recent publication by Michael Smyth from the Pat Finucane Centre – The Impact of the Parachute Regiment in Belfast 1970 – 1973 - 28 people were killed by the Para Regiment in Belfast between 1971 and 1973. Among those killed were two men from the Shankill, Richie McKinney and Robert Johnson who were both shot dead on the 7th September 1972.
The Paras arrived in Ardoyne in March 1973. They were responsible for the killing of five people. Eddie Sharpe was shot dead at his home on March 13 in Cranbrook Gdns. He was aged 28 and had three children.
Patrick McCabe aged 17 was shot dead on 27 March 1973. Paras said they were shooting at a man walking beside him in Holmdene Gardens who had a rifle. The man appeared in court and said they were unarmed.
Brendan Smyth aged 32 was shot on 17 April 1973 as he stood at the corner of Etna Drive and Brompton Park. Two others were wounded. Local people, including a nun said none of those shot were both armed.
Anthony McDowell aged 12 was shot on 19 April 1973. The inquest heard that he was shot in crossfire but the calibre used was similar to that used by Paras.
Sean McKee aged 17 from Labrook Drive in Ardoyne was shot at Fairfield Street in the Oldpark.
No one should think the Parachute Regiment was a unique regiment. It is a highly trained assault unit of the British Army. That is why it was used to crush resistance. It was acting entirely within British government policy at that time. That is why, thus far, it has not been held to account by London. The Paras were only doing what they were trained, paid for and ordered to do.
Victims of the Parachute Regiment in Belfast 1971-73
1 Watt, Bernard 5 February 1971
2 Halligan, William 5 March 1971
3 Thornton, Harry 7 August 1971
4 McGuinness, Frank 9 August 1971
5 Healey, Desmond 9 August 1971
6 Beattie, John 9 August 1971
7 Mullan, Hugh 9 August 1971
8 Quinn, Frank 9 August 1971
9 Phillips, Noel 9 August 1971
10 Connolly, Joan 9 August 1971
11 Teggart, Daniel 9 August 1971
12 Murphy, Joseph 9 August 1971
13 Doherty, Edward 11 August 1971
14 Laverty, John 11 August 1971
15 Corr, Joseph 11 August 1971
16 McCarthy, Paddy 11 August 1971
17 McKerr, John 11 August 1971
18 McCann, Joseph 15 April 1972
19 Patrick Donaghy 17 April 1972
20 Black, John 26 June 1972
21 McKinnie, Richie 7 September 1972
22 Johnston, Robert 7 September 1972
23 Todd, John 17 October 1972
24 Sharpe, Edward 12 March 1973
25 McCabe, Patrick 27 March 1973
26 Smyth, Brian 17 April 1973
27 McDowell, Anthony 19 April 1973
28 McKee, Sean 18 May 1973