In Philadelphia, USA - on a beautiful spring afternoon over fifty people gathered around tables and conversed awaiting the showing of documentary concerning the massacre in Ballymurphy, August 9th-11th, 1971, and a Q&A via skype with several of the campaigners in the film. Eleven innocent unarmed civilians were all gunned down by the British army's Parachute regiment - just six months later the same regiment would go onto Derry to murder 13 civil rights protesters, in what is now widely known as "Bloody Sunday".
For almost 43 years the loved ones of those murdered in Ballymurphy have searched for justice. The British Government refuses to acknowledge the innocence of those killed. To this day they are documented as gunmen and women who died in gun fights. The reality ascertained by forensic evidence and coroners’ reports states definitively that no victim had evidence of gunshot residue on their persons. No guns or ammunition were found on or near any of the bodies. Even the words of a British judge call into question the army’s narrative: ‘If Mr Corr was a gunman, why was he shot in the back?’
On the morning of Monday 9 August 1971, the British security forces launched Operation Demetrius. The plan was to arrest and detain anyone suspected of being a member of the IRA (which translates as arresting mainly the male population between 16-55) - they arrested 342 that day but Ballymurphy also ran red with the blood of six unarmed civilians, with more to follow over the next two days.
- Francis Quinn (19), shot by a sniper while going to the aid of a wounded man.
- Hugh Mullan (38), a catholic priest, shot by a sniper while going to the aid of a wounded man .
- Joan Connolly (50), shot as she stood opposite the army base - she was going to get her children to take them home.
- Daniel Teggart (44), was shot fourteen times. Most of the bullets entered his back as he lay injured on the ground
- Noel Phillips (20), shot as he stood across the road from New Barnsley Army base
- Joseph Murphy (41), shot also as he stood opposite the army base.
- On the 10th of August Edward Doherty (28), shot while walking along Whiterock Road .
- Wednesday August 11th John Laverty (20) and Joseph Corr (43) were shot at separate points at the top of the Whiterock Road. Laverty was shot twice, once in the back and once in the back of the leg. Corr was shot multiple times and died of his injuries on 27 August.
- John McKerr (49), shot by unknown attackers while standing outside the Roman Catholic church he later died of his injuries on 20 August.
- Paddy McCarthy (44) got into a confrontation with a group of soldiers. One of them put an empty gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. McCarthy as a result suffered a heart-attack and died.
There were sixteen other people murdered by the British army that August across the six counties some of which were children.
After decades spent searching and demanding the British authorities clear the names of their brothers, sisters, husbands, mothers, wives and children, the families united together under one campaign in the late 90's hoping that they could use their voices to bring attention to and resolve this long fought battle for an apology; for an acknowledgment of innocence, but most of all to achieve closure and accountability for the lives lost and families broken.
So why did Bloody Sunday echo across the world almost immediately, while Ballymurphy was criminally obscured? In short - technology. The television cameras captured Bloody Sunday in all its infamy and illuminated the actions of the British army. There were no cameras or journalists in Ballymurphy on that day.
And now, thanks to the wonders of technology, we are not only able to share such important films as this one to tell the world the story, but we can contact each other and interactively communicate over the web and build a coordinated international campaign. The fight for the truth will continue!
Through questions coming from the captivated Philadelphia crowd, via a skype link to Ballymurphy Belfast, the discussion ultimately took on several narrative themes that we’ll detail here according to their topics so as to give you a succinct thematic sum-up of the discussion.
The Q&A was informative, it allowed us all to learn more about the families’ troubles following the initial atrocities. We learned about the psychological damage done to the loved ones of the victims, and how they in turn became victims of the stigmatism of the false narrative that their family members were gunmen. We heard of wives who couldn’t manage to cope with the grief of losing husbands, and older sisters who had young families of their own but had to adopt and raise their youngest siblings. The continuing stigma of their loved ones being labeled as gunmen led to job opportunities lost, and in one dramatic case a family was forced to leave their homes in majority/Unionist neighborhoods as a result of this vilification. There was lingering depression and psychological breakdowns, and multiple diagnosis of PTSD for many survivors.
The campaigners gave us a clear and concise message of the ultimate goals of their campaign. We were brought up to date with whom the campaign has managed to present their case to and what support they’ve received. But more importantly, we were given a damning indictment of those who still refuse to meet with them. Their fight is continually ignored by the British Government - Downing Street refuses to meet with the families of those slain in cold blood. The government has often cited costs of inquiry as a non-starter for the family’s demands for an investigation. Nevertheless, it is not a financial incentive these families are after, but rather truth and justice for their loved ones.
One of the most optimistic developments for the campaign has come in the form of an independent inquest granted in the face of a dedicated campaign for Justice for the Hillsborough 96 (This was in regards to 96 fans of Liverpool FC who died in a human crush on April 15, 1989). The quashing of the previous verdicts of “accidental deaths” and the new investigation has buoyed the campaigners of the Ballymurphy Massacre group in their resolve to achieve their goals. So too has a very successful recent meeting with the Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who gave his full support to the campaign. The campaign also has the support of the Sinn Fein, SDLP, and Alliance parties in Stormont. However, although Unionist politicians have voiced their individual support to the campaigners off-the-record, no Unionist party has been willing to publicly endorse the campaign. The families also had a meeting with U.S. Congressional Representatives in Washington D.C. on March 16, 2013; the support of church congregations such as the Catholic Church in Ireland; support from trade unions; and just recently, we were told, the Cork City Council passed a resolution of support for the campaign and its demands.
What was the sum total of 42 years of obstruction to justice and truth? In no terms was it surrender or resignation; instead, the campaigners resolutely informed us, ‘We’ve fought for forty-two years, but we’re Irish and we’ll fight to the end for justice.’
This Justice, as they have informed us, will come in the form of their primary objectives
- A Fully-Resourced International Investigation into the Killings.
- A meeting with the British Prime Minister David Cameron
- An inquest where all of the paratroopers involved are called to account and compelled to give evidence
- The answer to the question: who gave the Paras their orders?
- To raise awareness of the campaign for truth.
So, we asked the families, what could we do? And in this “we,” we hope to include all you readers, because, as the families stressed to us, it is important to internationalize this campaign.
- Contact your local political representative and urge them to demand David Cameron meet with the families A.S.A.P.
- Hold solidarity demonstrations across the globe on August 10 for the Ballymurphy Massacre campaign’s “March for Truth”.
Also, if we may add one last thing - just as was done in Philadelphia, share the documentary with your friends and on social media. Share this article. We urge everyone to take these steps outlined above to help the families see the realization of their tireless campaigning, and finally achieve justice for the eleven innocent victims from Ballymurphy, West Belfast. August 9-11, 1971.
For future information on the US solidarity campaign