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Suzanne Breen: It was not the Army's 'duty' to gun down a mother out looking for her children, shame on you Karen

Bradley's blunder over Ballymurphy was a failure of leadership, impartiality and basic human decency

Secretary of State Karen Bradley
Secretary of State Karen Bradley
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Karen Bradley must never have heard of Joan Connolly. Never have heard how the mother-of-eight was shot with 10 other innocents by the Parachute Regiment in Ballymurphy.

Never have heard how half her face was blown away and how it took three attempts before her husband could identify her in the morgue, and only then from her red hair.

The numerous media reports of the ongoing Ballymurphy inquest - aired hours before the Secretary of State said security force killings weren't crimes - mustn't have really registered with her.

They told how Joan was 45 when she was killed, three years younger than Karen Bradley is now.

Their lives were strikingly different. Joan (right) didn't have a degree or career. Yet she was so happy. She married Denis Connolly from Monaghan when she was 19.

She didn't hate the British Army. She gave the soldiers tea and biscuits when they first arrived, and one departing regiment bought her an ornament in recognition of her kindness. Her eldest daughter married a squaddie.

Joan didn't drink and rarely socialised but she had her vices - bingo and a cigarette. On August 9, 1971, she went out to find her children as tensions rose in the area.

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At the inquest last Tuesday, 84-year-old John Maguire described her "crying, sobbing, frightened, terrified voice" after she'd been shot.

She shouted several times, "Someone help me please, I'm blind. I'm shot in the face, I can't see."

Had Karen Bradley read this before she spoke in the House of Commons on Wednesday, perhaps she wouldn't have said that security force killings were carried out by "people fulfilling their duty in a dignified and appropriate way".

Her 'misspeak' was much more serious than that of any DUP or Sinn Fein politician on a victims' issue. Because she is the Secretary of State. She is meant to be impartial, to represent everybody here - and she is paid handsomely to do so.

Following the furore over her remarks, she apologised and asked to meet victims of State violence. Fair enough. Except the Ballymurphy families pointed out that they had been requesting a meeting with her for a year and she hadn't even had the decency to reply.

They refused to go to Stormont to facilitate what they saw as an act designed to save her career.

Had she met them originally, Karen Bradley would have heard that the soldiers' shooting spree in Ballymurphy left 54 children without one parent.

She would have heard how hours after Joan was killed, her children were evacuated to a refugee camp across the border.

She would have heard how they watched their mother's funeral on TV. How three-year-old Irene cried her eyes out and kept asking where was Joan until her big sister Briege told her, "Mummy's gone to heaven to get you sweets."

She would have heard how the kids came back to a home where their father couldn't cope, and months later started screeching in the living room. He spent the next six weeks in a psychiatric hospital.

She would have heard how Joan's eldest daughter Denise, who had married the soldier, made numerous suicide attempts, and how her son Brian turned to drink and died an alcoholic.

She would have heard how the Army lied and said Joan was an IRA gunwoman.

She would have heard how the Paras sang 'Where's your momma gone' outside the family's home. She would have heard how the British government awarded the Connollys £250 compensation for their dead mother.

And perhaps then Karen Bradley would have shown some sensitivity before she opened her mouth."

Collins beyond the pale

Jude Collins picked a fight with the wrong woman.

After a BBC interview with Naomi Long last Sunday, he wrote that the first thing that hits you when she's on TV is her "weight problem" and he speculated about her health.

The Alliance leader called him out and an avalanche of condemnation was followed by Collins apologising. Men of a certain age and physical appearance liberally comment on women's looks because sexism is so ingrained in them.

Collins has made a media 'career' out of insulting everybody but Sinn Fein. He wrote a 2011 piece 'Liam Adams is Innocent'. I must have missed the searing article when the paedophile was convicted.

Collins recently complained that the BBC had dumped him. However, he could continue to rely on other outings - he hosted an hour-long conversation with Gerry Adams at August's Féile an Phobail.

After his Naomi debacle, I doubt there'll be gigs like that again. Jude Collins may well have become too toxic for Sinn Fein.

Channel 4 doc on Michael Jackson truly sobering

CHANNEL 4’s documentary, Leaving Neverland, was horrifying. But if we’re honest, we should admit we already knew what Michael Jackson was.

He surrounded himself with child companions and threw money at their parents. It was always boys, never girls nor adults. Yet media and fans treated his entourage almost as a joke. Now his victims are talking, we’re forced to admit there was nothing funny about it.

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