PM Boris Johnson apologises ‘unreservedly’ after Ballymurphy inquests

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has “apologised unreservedly on behalf of the UK Government for the events that took place in Ballymurphy” and the “huge anguish” caused to the families of those killed.

However, instead of a public apology or one made directly to the families of the 10 victims shot dead by the Army in west Belfast in 1971, it was made to the First and deputy First Ministers in a remote meeting.

According to a Downing Street spokesman, Mr Johnson spoke with Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill on Wednesday afternoon.

Neither of the Stormont leaders referenced the apology in statements issued following the virtual meeting which focused on coronavirus.

The spokesman for the Prime Minister said that Mr Johnson “said the conclusions of the Ballymurphy Inquest, published yesterday, were deeply sad and that the events of August 1971 were tragic”.

He continued: “The Prime Minister apologised unreservedly on behalf of the UK Government for the events that took place in Ballymurphy and the huge anguish that the lengthy pursuit of truth has caused the families of those killed.”

The spokesman added that the Prime Minister “stressed the importance of working hard to keep the gains made through the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and of all parties doing their utmost to help the victims' families find out what happened to their loved ones, so that future generations are not burdened by the past”.

John Teggart, son of Ballymurphy victim Daniel Teggart, branded the Prime Minister’s apology an insult.

“What kind of insult is it to families that he couldn't have the conversation with ourselves?” he told the BBC.

“His office couldn’t come and speak to the families of what he was doing. That’s not acceptable to the families and never will be.

“This is not an apology to us.”

Breige Voyle, whose mother Joan Connolly was another of the victims, also dismissed Mr Johnson’s apology.

“Why are we only hearing about this now?” she said.

“Is he trying to sneak it in? I don’t care about an apology - I want to know why. Our loved ones were all completely innocent, so why were they shot?

She said that an apology by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons would have “at least been a bit more respectful”, adding: “But to do it this way is trying to push it under the carpet.”

Ms O’Neill has said she challenged Mr Johnson to apologise to the families.

According to a Sinn Féin party spokesperson, the deputy First Minister was told that Secretary of State Brandon Lewis was intending to make a statement around Ballymurphy at Westminster on Thursday.

Fresh inquests into the deaths in west Belfast concluded that all 10 victims - including a mother-of-eight and a Catholic priest - were “entirely innocent” and that soldiers were responsible for nine of the fatal shootings.

Coroner Mrs Justice Keegan found that the use of lethal force by the Army was not justified.

She also criticised the lack of investigation into the 10th death, that of John McKerr - a former soldier in the British Army who lost his hand in the Second World War - and said she could not definitively rule who had shot him.

The killings came over three days from 9-11 August 1971 following the controversial introduction of internment without trial.

Soldiers were met with violence across Northern Ireland as they detained IRA suspects.

Misinformation had circulated in the years since that those shot dead in Ballymurphy had been terrorists, but their names have now been cleared - 50 years on.

A solicitor who represents the victims' families has confirmed they have instigated civil proceedings against the Ministry of Defence.

“In light of these findings and the strong criticisms, they will be pushing on with that,” Padraig O Muirigh said.