Thursday, May 9, 2019

Ballymurphy never went to war - the war came to Ballymurphy.

I have watched with awe and huge admiration the courage and steadfastness of the families of those killed in Ballymurphy in August 1971 throughout their long campaign to get to the truth of what happened on our streets 48 years ago. The current inquest has been a difficult experience for them. They have had to listen to the lies and spin from former British soldiers seeking to justify their killing of Fr. Hugh Mullan, Francis Quinn, Daniel Teggart, Joan Connolly – a mother of eight - Joseph Murphy, Noel Phillips, Edward Doherty, John Laverty, Joseph Corr and John McKerr. An 11th man, local community worker Paddy McCarthy, died from a heart attack after a British army patrol subjected him to a mock execution. Eleven families lost loved ones and 57 children were bereaved.

The year before internment Sinn Féin organised a petition in Ballymurphy for British soldiers to leave the area. About 97% of the community voted ‘Yes’. Ballymurphy was not what one would call a Republican community at that time. Through 1970 and in the months leading up to August 1971 the British Army pumped countless gallons of CS Gas into the area . They used rubber bullets and generally intimidated everyone, including women and children. A range of community organisations came together to resist them. These included the Hen Patrols, Citizens Defence and so forth. There were acts of resistance every day. It was communal activity. Ballymurphy never went to war. Rather the war came to Ballymurphy.

Some time ago I was asked by the Coroners Service to make a statement about my knowledge of those events. I gave them a statement in January and subsequently agreed a longer, more formal statement. Three weeks ago I received a letter from the Coroners Service formally asking me to attend the Ballymurphy Inquest on Wednesday to give evidence as a witness. Below is the statement which I prepared.

My Statement to the Coroner’s Service:
“My name is Gerry Adams. I was formerly the MP and MLA for west Belfast. And since 2011 I have been a Teachta Dála (TD) for the constituency of Louth.
During the interment swoops of August 9th 1971 my family home was 11 Divismore Park, Ballymurphy. My family had lived there since the house was built in the1950s. Divismore Park is directly opposite the Henry Taggart Church Hall on the Springfield Road. At the time of internment, and for some time before this, the Taggart was occupied by the British Army. They were also on the roof of the Vere Foster School behind the Henry Taggart.
I am a republican. My family, maternally and paternally, have been involved in republicanism since before partition. I became active in republican politics in my mid-teens in the mid-1960s. I joined Sinn Féin, which was then an illegal organisation under the Special Powers Act.
I was active locally in west Belfast in campaigns for decent housing and in civil rights agitation and in Ballymurphy in community politics. I was a founder member of the west Belfast Housing Action Committee and a founding member of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. Later I was elected to the local Belfast committee.
After the Belfast pogroms in August 1969 I left paid employment to become a full-time Sinn Féin activist. Along with many others I was involved in providing assistance to thousands of refugees who flooded into west Belfast. I also worked with the Central Citizens Defence Committee which co-ordinated the community response to the refugee crisis.
At that time parts of Belfast were barricaded by local residents. The RUC and British soldiers were excluded by local nationalist and republican communities.
I worked with a range of community organisations which sprang up around that time. They basically organised their neighbourhoods. This was the time of very widespread civil disobedience and the withdrawal of nationalists from the structures of the state.
In Ballymurphy and the Upper Springfield there was a quite a sophisticated and very democratic community structure involving the Ballymurphy Tenants Association, other community organisations, Sinn Féin. Street Committees and Youth Committees, a Citizen’s Defence Committee, Ex British Servicemen’s Association, and Women’s Groups, including Hen Patrols. There were also two IRA groups, popularly known as the Officials and the Provisionals.
The British Army’s attitude to the local community was very brutal, and from 1970, within a short time of them arriving on the streets, there was regular and sustained street fighting. This was mainly local people resisting a very aggressive occupation.
Ballymurphy in particular was often saturated with British patrols; riot squads were deployed daily; and CS gas and rubber bullets were used in huge numbers. At the time of internment, I was the Chairperson of the local Sinn Féin Cumann or branch in the Upper Springfield, including Ballymurphy.
The politics of the area had changed immensely since August 1969. By the time of internment in 1971 the people of Ballymurphy were a risen people, a community united in opposition to the injustices imposed upon them. Most of the street fighting which had taken place in 1970 and early 1971 did not involve the use of firearms. It was normally bricks, bottles, stones, petrol bombs and occasionally blast bombs.
11 people died in the Upper Springfield as a result of the conflict in the three days following internment. I did not witness any of these killings. I believe all those who died were killed by the British Army. My account of these events in one of my books, Before the Dawn, is drawn from conversations with people at the time or shortly afterwards, or as a result of research I undertook, including contemporary media reports, when writing Before the Dawn in 1995.
Internment was introduced shortly before 4 am on the morning of Monday August 9th 1971. I was not at home. I was in a friend’s house in Springhill which is an adjoining housing estate. My family home was raided. My father and my brother Liam, who was 14, were arrested.
The Parachute Regiment evicted my mother and the rest of the family and occupied the house. They wrecked it so much that my mother was never able to return. The house was subsequently demolished.
The British Army withdrew to the outskirts of the area after the initial raid and arrest operation. A number of local community leaders were among those arrested and badly beaten and local people congregated at the Henry Taggart in protest.
The British Army deployed riot squads, a water cannon and fired rubber bullets and CS gas. Around mid-afternoon on the 9th August homes in Springfield Park were attacked by loyalists from Springmartin. There was shooting by the British Army and possibly also by loyalists from Springmartin.
That fire was returned by a small number of IRA volunteers from Moyard. They then withdrew. The rioting continued sporadically all the rest of that afternoon and evening as some families were evicted from Springfield Park by Loyalists.
That night around 9pm a number of people were killed and injured on waste ground between Moyard and Springfield Park by the British Army firing from Springmartin. At the same time other British soldiers had opened fire from the Henry Taggart into Ballymurphy.
A number of people were killed opposite the Henry Taggart in a field between Ballymurphy and Springhill. There was no IRA firing at that time. I was in Springhill. The firing from the Henry Taggart was very intense although we were sheltered from this.
I witnessed a young boy, Eddie Butler, who had been wounded being rescued by local people. During a lull in the British Army firing from the Taggart he and some other boys were encouraged to crawl from the undergrowth where they were trapped, through wire and a hedge into Springhill.
The wounded boy was put on a door, which someone produced, and he was taken in a house where first aid was administered by the Knights of Malta before he was taken away by ambulance.
During this rescue I saw two masked IRA Volunteers go toward the top of Springhill Avenue. I then heard firing from that area. I was later told that they had fired toward British troops who were across the Springfield Road on the high ground at Springmartin or in or around Glenravel School. It was not possible to fire at the Henry Taggart from the top of Springhill Avenue”.

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