It’s a miracle more lives weren’t lost, Army shooting probe told
A catholic priest has told the inquest of a man shot and fatally wounded by the Army at a dance in north Belfast 45 years ago it was a "miracle" that only one person was killed.
Father Augustine Hourigan was giving evidence on the second day of the inquest into the death of 25-year-old Joseph Parker in Ardoyne in December 1971.
The victim was at a disco at Toby's Hall with his sister Teresa Watt and his uncle Francis Cosgrove when a patrol from the Lancashire Regiment arrived.
A row broke out and the Army opened fire in the packed hall. After the trouble stopped it became clear that 'Joe-Joe' Parker, as he was known, had been shot. He died later from his injuries at the Mater Hospital.
Fr Hourigan, a member of the Passionist Order, was a priest at Holy Cross church in Ardoyne at the time.
In court he said that he had not attended functions at Toby's Hall before, but was persuaded to go by some local people.
"The local community tended to stay away from the city centre after the introduction of internment. There were around 500 people in the hall at the time when a British Army patrol came in with their faces blackened," he said.
Fr Hourigan said he challenged the officer in charge of the patrol, whom he described as a "very tall man", and told him their presence was likely to cause trouble. He said that he advised them but the soldier in charge ignored him, said he wanted to look around and pushed past him. And, at this point the leading soldier fell, or was tripped.
"Another soldier was in a state of excitement and panic and was frightened when the crowd began shouting 'Out, out, out'," the priest said.
"A shot was fired. I don't know whether it was the first soldier or the second one. There was quite a lot of shots fired.
"It was a miracle only one person was killed. I was outside by then. There was a big surge for the door."
When questioned by counsel for the Ministry of Defence, Peter Coll QC, Fr Hourigan described how a young teenage girl in a distressed state grabbed his hand and they both removed a nail that was barring an exit door. He described how, outside, another agitated soldier was alone against a wall on Butler Street adjacent to the hall. This soldier, said the priest, was warning the crowd spilling out of Toby's Hall to "get back". However, Fr Hourigan recalled that an older woman on the street said to the soldier, "Son, the closer we are to you, the safer you are".
He told Mr Coll he had left and that point and had not seen the shots being fired because he was in the street. He had, however, heard them.
Replying to questions from Fiona Doherty, counsel for the Parker family, Fr Hourigan said that he, two other priests and a delegation of around 30 local people were admitted to Black Street Army barracks the next day and spoke with three senior officers about the incident.
But, he said, despite an apology for the death of Joe-Joe and an apology over the handling of the entire incident, as far as he was aware a promised investigation into the matter never materialised.
"If you had been there and saw what happened as I described it, for just one person in the hall to be killed was most unusual. It was chaos," said Fr Hourigan.
Phyllis Doherty, another witness who gave evidence yesterday, told the court she initially believed the shots being fired were rubber bullets.
She also said that she and her friend Patricia Hale, who was wounded in the incident, took cover when they realised that live rounds were being fired.
The inquest continues.