Eleven people were shot dead by British soldiers in Ballymurphy in the three days following the introduction of internment without trial on 9th August 1971. Today, more than forty years later, John Larkin, the Northern Ireland Attorney General, has ordered fresh inquests into the deaths.
The original inquests returned an open verdict in 1972 but there was no serious investigation into the behaviour of the paratroopers who carried out the killings. In 1998, some of the families of those that were killed began to collect and archive eye-witness statements in an attempt to establish the actual chronology of events over those three days (with striking parallels to the McGurks Bar campaign). Thirteen years later, the inquests will be re-opened, with a significantly wider remit than in 1971.
The announcement has received a guarded welcome from local MP Paul Maskey:
This is a welcome announcement by the Attorney General and moves the campaign for Justice for the Ballymurphy Victims a step closer. But while this is an advance in the campaign it should not be seen as fulfilling the demands of the families to a full Independent International Inquiry…
The original Inquests were a cynical exercise in cover-up and smear against the victims who included a Catholic priest and a mother of eight children. Eye witnesses evidence was not taken and British Army members statements were prepared in advance and presented to the Judge without any opportunity for cross examination.
In reality, the re-opening of the inquests is only a small step and is not an alternative to full disclosure of what transpired, or, whether tests for prosecution have been met. Hopefully the British government and paratroop regiment will co-operate on this occasion and not attempt to delay the outcome for 38 years.