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Ballymurphy Massacre: Families walk out of James Brokenshire Stormont meeting

Published 19/09/2016

Campaigners whose family members were shot dead by soldiers in the 1971 Ballymurphy massacre stand outside Laganside Courts
Campaigners whose family members were shot dead by soldiers in the 1971 Ballymurphy massacre stand outside Laganside Courts

Ballymurphy Massacre families walked out of a meeting with the Secretary of State James Brokenshire at Stormont on Monday.

It was Brokenshire's first meeting with the families since he took over in the post from Theresa Villiers.

They walked out after just 45 minutes with James Brokenshire at Stormont House in a row over the release of funding for Troubles-related inquests.

John Teggart, whose father was among 10 people shot dead in August 1971, said they were "disappointed and depressed" by the Minister's attitude.

He said: "It was a terrible meeting.

"James Brokenshire refused to answer many of our questions and it was just going round and round in circles."

Mr Teggart said the relatives had been encouraged by some recent statements from the Minister, who was appointed in July.

But he added: "It was just the same old, same old.

"The families poured their hearts out about what had happened to their late relatives and were basically pleading for him to release the funding but it was going nowhere.

"Mr Brokenshire is now the fourth Secretary of State that we have met.

Mourners at the funeral of one of the Ballymurphy victims
Mourners at the funeral of one of the Ballymurphy victims

"He said he could not release the funding because he did not see support from the Executive for that. But we had representatives from six parties in the room.

"The only party that wasn't there was the DUP."

Ten people died after being shot by soldiers, among them a Catholic priest and a mother-of-eight, over three days of gunfire in August 1971.

Another man died of a heart attack following an alleged violent confrontation with the troops.

As with Bloody Sunday six months later, members of the Parachute Regiment were involved in the shootings.

They took place as the Army moved into republican strongholds in west Belfast to arrest IRA suspects after the Stormont administration introduced the controversial policy of internment without trial.

Supporters and families of people shot dead by the British Army in 1972 in the Ballymurphy area marching through west Belfast (File photo)
Supporters and families of people shot dead by the British Army in 1972 in the Ballymurphy area marching through west Belfast (File photo)

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: "The legacy aspect of the Fresh Start agreement is one that is continuing to exercise all of use, but more importantly the families of victims. I am hoping that the last piece of the jigsaw can be put in place," he said.

"I do believe there is a huge responsibility on the British government to stop using the delays of others on the issue. They should fund those inquests as requested by the Lord Chief Justice.

"This is a big issue, these people have waited for 45 years and I think it is only right that the British government take up their responsibility."

Earlier this month Northern Ireland's most senior judge Sir Declan Morgan called on political leaders to sort out the contentious funding issue for legacy inquests.

His request for £10m to fund a five-year programme that would deal with controversial Troubles' deaths was blocked by First Minister Arlene Foster.

Outstanding inquests into more than 80 deaths that took place during the 30-year conflict have yet to be heard.

Sinn Fein's legacy spokeswoman Jennifer McCann said the Ballymurphy families had been "let down".

She said: "The Ballymurphy families have been waiting 45 years for justice and once again they have been let down by the British Government by their failure to release funds for legacy inquests.

"The British Government has failed to uphold commitments made in the Stormont House Agreement on how to deal with the legacy of the conflict.

"This is the fourth British secretary of state the families have met and their inaction has only added to the hurt of the families over four decades."

SDLP West Belfast MLA Alex Attwood said the families are right to be angry at the failure to release funds for inquests.

Alex Attwood said: "The Ballymurphy Massacre families walked out of the meeting with the Secretary of State today and I left with them. They are right to be angry and right to let the Secretary of State know of their anger in unambiguous terms.

"The Secretary of State has been meeting with victims and survivors. One of the outcomes should be that the London Government changes for the better its approach to legacy issues.

"Today, the Ballymurphy families heard that despite meeting victims and survivors, the London Government and the Secretary of State have yet to demonstrate change in their thinking. They gave the families no hope that inquest funds – which the Lord Chief Justice has asked for time and time again – will be released now.

"It is also of concern that the Secretary of State is giving one party – in this case the DUP – a veto on a legacy issue. Victims and Survivors, their grief and their needs should not be subject to a shallow veto.

"If the DUP can veto funding for inquests, they or others could try to do so again and attempt to veto other proposals to achieve truth, justice and accountability. Where would we be then?

"This cannot be allowed to happen. The Secretary of State must show that he hears the calls of Victims and Survivors, including the Ballymurphy Massacre families, and will answer those calls.”

A spokeswoman for the Northern Ireland Office said they did not comment on the content of private meetings.

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