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Northern Ireland Secretary Says Government Is "Truly Sorry" For Ballymurphy Killings

3 min read

Brandon Lewis has apologised for the Ballymurphy shootings in a parliamentary statement today, but Boris Johnson faces mounting criticism for not making a more formal apology to the families of the victims.

This week a coroner ruled that 10 people killed in the wake of a British army operation in Belfast in 1971 were "entirely innocent," and that nine were killed by army personnel.

The victims included mother of eight Joan Connolly and priest Father Hugh Mullan.

The shootings took place early in The Troubles — a period of civil conflict in Northern Ireland between the 1960s and 1990s which resulted in the death of more than 3,500 people.

Lewis, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, said on Thursday morning that in "some cases" during The Troubles "the security forces and the Army made terrible errors" and that the events in Ballymurphy, west Belfast "fuelled further violence and escalation".

"The Government profoundly regrets and is truly sorry for these events," he told MPs.

"At how investigations after these terrible events were handled and for the additional pain that the families have had to endure in their fight to clear the names of their loved ones since they began their campaign almost five decades ago".

He said the families of the victims should not have had to wait nearly 50 years for the judgement this week, or "relive that terrible time in August 1971, again and again in their long and distressing quest for truth".

The Prime Minister plans to write to the individual families of the victims, Lewis added.

However, Johnson was criticised by opposition MPs for not appearing in the House of Commons and making the statement himself.

"In the aftermath of the Bloody Sunday inquiry, David Cameron came to this House and apologised in a statement. He took full responsibility," said Louise Haigh, shadow Northern Ireland Secretary.

"Where's the Prime Minister? And why has he not publicly apologised to the Ballymurphy families and this House?"

Labour MP Karin Smyth said it was a "disgrace that he [the Prime Minister] is not here from that despatch box to make the statement". Colom Eastwood of the SDLP said Johnson needed to "come out of hiding".

Johnson apologised "unreseverdly" to Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy Minister Michelle O'Neill in a phone call on Wednesday, a Downing Street spokesperson said.

However, relatives of the victims criticised the nature of the Prime Minister's apology.

John Teggart, whose son Daniel was killed in Ballymurphy, said Johnson "didn't approach the families" and that he had found out about his apology from a journalist.

"Boris Johnson leaks what was said in three-way conversation, a private conversation by the way, to the media. That's how the families found out," he told Sky News. Teggart felt the Prime Minister showed "bad manners" and "needs to be more serious" with his apology.

"If he's coming any way half-heartedly to apologise like that, he knows what he can do with it".

Briege Voyle, daughter of Joan Connolly, said: "His apology means nothing, we need him to go back to the Ministry of Defence and tell them to tell the truth, tell our legal team the names of the soldiers who murdered our loved ones and ask them why".

An apology in the House of Commons would have "at least been a bit more respectful," she added.

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