Belfast Telegraph

Sorry still seems the hardest word

The family of Majella O'Hare, the 12-year-old girl shot in the back and killed by a paratrooper as she walked to church in 1976, are correct when they say that they will never really get closure even though the Ministry of Defence has apologised for the killing. A letter from Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, expresses profound apologies for the death, but that will never undo decades of hurt felt by the family.

As with all bereaved families, the sense of loss, the absence of a loved one and the pain and grief at their death remains. It may be less acute as the years pass, but it will always be there. When the victim is a totally innocent child, that sense of loss and grief is all the more and the O'Hare family have had to wait for an unpardonable length of time to gain even an apology.

The soldier who fired the fatal shot claimed a IRA sniper had opened fire first and was acquitted of manslaughter the year after the shooting. However, Mr Fox regards this as unlikely, a phrase which still rankles with the family who argue that there was no sniper and no other gunfire.

The whole sorry episode leaves open to question how detailed the original investigation had been and why, if now it is accepted that it is unlikely there was any terrorist activity in the area, such a determination could not have been made at the time. It also defies logic, or even decency, that it should have taken more than 30 years for someone in the military establishment to offer condolences or an apology.

If any good should come of this case, it is that other victims who have suffered similar injustices should also receive an apology. The distance of time and the absence of evidence may mean that no-one will be brought to justice but at least someone should admit that a wrong was done.

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