by John Myers
Martin Luther King popularized the phrase: “The arc of the Moral Universe is long, but it bends towards Justice.” For the families of the eleven victims of British atrocities known as the Ballymurphy Massacre, it was a long half century, but a measure of Justice was recently achieved.
The formal Coroner’s Inquest released last month, concluded that the eleven dead were “Entirely Innocent of any wrongdoing.” It is a remarkable and much welcomed sentence: “ENTIRELY” and “INNOCENT” and “ANY” could not be any more succinct or clear.
In August of 1971, the British Government instituted “Operation Demetrius,” a plan of mass arrest and imprisonment (“Internment”) without need for evidence, due process or trial of individuals, merely suspected of involvement in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (Provo’s or PIRA).
Inspired by MLK and the American Civil Rights Movement, N.I. residents organized and protested this extraordinary breach of civil and human rights by the alleged Western Democracy based in London.
Ballymurphy is a housing estate/neighborhood of West Belfast, home to a peaceful community of strong Irish Republican sentiment. Over 600 troops of the Parachute Regiment (“Paras”) were sent to Ballymurphy to fully implement Operation Demetrius by any means necessary and suppress ongoing marches and protests.
The Paras, Britain’s “Storm Troopers”, created to fight the Nazi’s in WWII, were sent to beat down protesting, unarmed civilians. It has been argued that the Paras created a “Kill Zone” in Ballymurphy, which resulted in eleven dead and more wounded.
Formal British inquiry at the time stated and concluded that the Para’s were justified, as they were firing upon armed members of the IRA. No guns were ever found, victims carried no residue of ballistics fire and had no history of violent involvement. And we now, officially know, that all the dead and wounded were “entirely innocent of any wrongdoing”. It is clear that the British Government knew the civilians were murdered in cold blood; it is clear that the British Army and Government consciously lied. But the families had to live for decades with British attempts to smear their loved one’s names and reputations in order to cover up this State sponsored violence.
Over a three-day period, the British Paras terrorized the community with impunity. People were driven from their homes, the Paras ransacked the houses, defecated on dining room tables, urinated on beds, destroyed religious and family heirlooms. The troops duty and obligation were to bring peace to the community, to their fellow citizens, but instead they brought death and violence.
Vengeance and rath of the Empire was unleased on a defenseless community. A reign of terror was Westminster’s response to the young Civil Rights Movement in the Six Counties.
Sir Michael Jackson was the captain of the Para’s unit at Ballymurphy. He was also the captain of the same Para’s who, five months later, perpetrated the events of Bloody Sunday in Derry with fourteen more executions. Sir Michael Jackson was rewarded with a promotion to the head of the British Army, and made a personal aide-de-camp to Queen Elizabeth.
As part of the British coverup, Sir Michael Jackson testified at the initial investigation that the Para’s were caught in a three-hour gun battle with twenty armed members of the PIRA. Even the British Government now acknowledges this as a despicable lie.
The Eleven dead included a mother of eight and a young Catholic Priest; fifty-seven children lost a parent. The dead are Joan Connolly (44), mother of eight children, shot three times including in the face. Her body was left injured for over three hours. Joseph Corr (43) shot several times;
Edward Doherty (28) killed while walking nearby; John Laverty (20) shot twice, both bullets in the back; Paddy McCarthy (44), who did not die of bullet wounds, but rather a heart attack after British Para’s stuck a gun in his mouth in a mock execution; John McKerr (49), died of a head shot while standing in front of a Catholic Church; Father Hugh Mullan (38), Fr. Mullan was shot with his Roman Collar on while attempting to aid a victim of the Massacre, all the while holding a white handkerchief; Joseph Murphy (41), survived the initial massacre, but was shot again while in custody of the Para’s after being beaten and tortured; Noel Phillips (20), an innocent bystander shot and killed; Francis Quinn (19), killed by the Para’s as he attempted to help one of the injured; Daniel Teggart (44) riddled with over 1fourteen bullets. And yet, the British establishment and even an Anglophilic American press labeled the dead as “terrorists”.
As no cameras were present in Ballymurphy, it did not gain the same notoriety as Bloody Sunday did in Derry. Gerry Adams responded in a documentary on the Ballymurphy Massacre that “Arguably, if there had been proper holding to account of those who killed in Ballymurphy, then there wouldn’t have been a Bloody Sunday and then there wouldn’t have been the huge convulsion and radicalization that went on in the relationship between peoples here and the two islands.” This was a remarkable statement, and an indictment of the amoral British attitude and posture towards the Six Counties and those that live there.
But let us celebrate this milestone, albeit five decades late, that our hope is renewed for a victory for Truth and Justice, an important step to healing and reconciliation as we prepare for a new and united Ireland.