Almost 40 years ago, during the early hours of August 9 1971, British soldiers, under orders from both London and Stormont, launched Operation Demetrius, the introduction of internment without trial, in the occupied Six Counties.
Internment had been employed by the apartheid Stormont regime in every decade since the creation of the northern state as a means of suppressing republican resistance. In the 1920s, ’30s, ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, republicans and nationalists had been imprisoned without trial. Even at the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, the ongoing imprisonment of Lurgan republican Martin Corey without any charges having been preferred demonstrates that internment, in one guise or another, still remains a favoured British tactic.
In 1971, as the British army swept into nationalist areas across the North, 342 men were arrested in the initial swoops. Among those arrested were republicans, socialists, GAA activists and prominent members of the Civil Rights Movement. In Armagh, the British army raided homes in their efforts to arrest a man who had been dead for the previous four years.
The reaction of the nationalist community throughout the Six Counties and in the Twenty-Six Counties was one of palpable anger. This anger was reinforced when news of the torture of the internees, particularly 11 men who became known as the ‘hooded men’, became public. The anger took the form of increased support for republicanism and the commencement of a campaign of civil disobedience within the nationalist community.
In one part of Belfast, between August 9 and 11, over 600 British soldiers entered the Ballymurphy area, raiding homes and rounding up men. Young and old alike were shot and beaten as they were dragged from their homes without reason. During this three-day period, 11 people were brutally murdered.
All 11 were unarmed civilians, murdered by the British army’s Parachute Regiment. One of the victims was a 45-year-old mother of eight children, while another was a well-known parish priest. In the aftermath, no investigations were carried out and no member of the British army was held to account. The accounts of how the 11 died bear a striking similarity to the stories told by the Bloody Sunday families in Derry, whose loved ones also fell victim to the Britain’s Parachute Regiment.
Eleven months later and not far away from Ballymurphy, on July 9 1972, another five people, two of them children and one a priest, were shot dead in what became known as the Springhill Massacre. Several others were injured.
Local people believe that the fatal shots in this incident were fired from covert British army observation posts. Yet, like the Ballymurphy killings in 1971 and the Bloody Sunday killings in January 1972, no one was ever arrested or charged in connection with the Springhill shootings.
The 1971 killings have often been referred to as the forgotten massacre, but, to the families left behind, they didn’t forget. For almost 40 years, they have carried their pain and grief deep within their hearts, but their thirst for the truth to be told has not diminished one iota.
The Ballymurphy Massacre families, along with those of the Springhill Massacre, have had their lives devastated by state violence, cover-ups and lies. They have seen their loved ones killed with impunity with no proper investigations. They themselves became targets of harassment because they dared to challenge the British state’s version of events. Some of the families have suffered multiple traumas with the loss of other relatives due to the conflict.
Over the past number of years, the relatives and survivors of the Ballymurphy Massacre have campaigned across Ireland, Britain, the US and Europe in their quest to establish the truth. As part of that campaign, the families are demanding an independent and international investigation into the murder of their loved ones.
However, the British government continues to thwart the families’ just demands.
Last Thursday [December 9], British direct rule minister Hugo Swire told the British parliament that his government would not conduct such an inquiry and instead told the families to co-operate with the Historical Enquiries Team [HET]. In doing so, he demonstrated the utter contempt which the British government has for the victims of that government’s armed forces.
Swire and other British ministers know only too well that the Ballymurphy families have absolutely no faith in the HET. How could they? After all, the families had previously outlined their total and collective opposition to the PSNI’s HET, underlining that it did not meet the necessary requirements regarding independence – one of their key demands.
The families have also pointed out that the HET had previously conducted a ‘review’ and ‘investigation’ into two of the killings below the radar and concluded that the Parachute Regiment had no case to answer.
That was an appalling statement and a direct indictment of the failings of the HET in what can only be described as an attempt to whitewash the truth concerning the Ballymurphy Massacre.
As the families themselves have stated, information concerning the killings evidentially merits that any investigative process must equally examine links between the killings of those in Ballymurphy and those killed during Bloody Sunday. The chain of evidence indicates that some of the same paratroopers were involved in both massacres – all involving unarmed civilians.
By promoting the use of the flawed HET process, the British government seeks to neutralise and stall the campaign demands of the Ballymurphy families, while also controlling what does and does not emerge about official governmental policy at the time of these killings. Official governmental and military documents uncovered in London prior to the sending in of the Paratroopers cite directives to use ‘shock and stun’ tactics.
There can be no doubt that part of the policy was to inflict such devastation and carnage that would suppress the community and/or turn it in on itself.
Other examples of this military approach are Bloody Sunday, and the multiple killings in Springhill and New Lodge in which a total of 36 nationalist lives were claimed within an 18-month period. Over the same period, a total of 92 people were also killed in separate incidents by the British army. A further six people were killed by the RUC. All with impunity.
The HET process equally avoids examining similar multiple killings by the British army that would draw focus to the thematic approach, tactics and policy of the British government during this period, which is essential to any proper investigation. The above figures do not include the activities of the unionist death squads, including the Kelly’s and McGurk’s Bar bombings, in which official misinformation and lies were also peddled with the aim of further fracturing and dividing the nationalist community.
That all of this was occurring during the posting to the Six Counties of key British military and counter-insurgency strategist Frank Kitson, who wrote and published five manuals on low intensity warfare and infiltration tactics, is no coincidence.
It is the families’ considered view that the HET has been engaged in what can only be described as an elaborate exercise of serpentine weaving, aimed at managing and suppressing the truth concerning the Ballymurphy Massacre.
éirígí supports the families and survivors of the Ballymurphy Massacre in their quest for the truth and completely endorses the families’ demand and the compelling case they have made for an independent international investigation into the deliberate murders of 11 unarmed civilians – a case that no-one can genuinely argue with.
Ballymurphy Massacre – The Victims
On August 9, the first of the killings took place in Springfield Park.
A local man was trying to lift children to safety when he was shot and wounded. People tried to help, but were pinned down by British army gunfire. The parish priest, Father Hugh Mullan, took out a white cloth and tried to reach the wounded man, but as he knelt over him, anointing him, he was shot.
Another young man, Frank Quinn, on witnessing this came out of his position of safety to help Mullan and he too was murdered. The bodies lay until local people could reach them and remained in neighbours’ houses until the next morning.
200 yards away, at exactly the same time, local people were standing on waste ground at the top of Ballymurphy when the British army opened fire. Noel Phillips, a young man of 19 was shot and wounded.
As he lay crying for help, a mother of eight children, Joan Connolly, went to his aid. She was heard to say “It’s alright son, I’m coming to you”. Joan was shot in the face and, as she lay on the ground, other local men tried to get to her, which resulted in them also being shot. When this atrocity was over, Daniel Teggart, a father of 13 children, had been shot 14 times and Joan Connolly lay dead.
Joseph Murphy who was shot in the leg and Noel Phillips, also suffering from a wound, did not receive any medical attention. When a British army Saracen [an armoured personnel carrier] pulled into the field, Noel Phillips received a summary execution, witnessed by many people. The British began to throw the dead and wounded into the Saracen, including Joseph Murphy. Murphy was taken to the Henry Taggart military base, where he was severely beaten. He died three weeks later. His family said that, if he had received medical attention, he would have lived. Others wounded were also severely beaten, none received medical attention.
Eddie Doherty was making his way home along the Whiterock Road on August 10 when a British army digger and Saracen moved in to dismantle a barricade that had been erected. From the digger, a member of the Parachute Regiment shot Eddie in the back. He did not receive any medical attention and died of his wounds.
In the early morning of August 11, John Laverty, aged 20, was shot dead by British soldiers. Joseph Corr, a father of seven, was also shot and later died on August 27 as a result. The Parachute Regiment’s account is that both men were firing at them. In fact, neither man was armed. All ballistic and forensic evidence disproved this testimony, with no residue from firearms being found. The British army’s version of events remains the ‘official’ version.
Paddy McCarthy, a community worker, was shot in the hand while attempting to leave the local community centre to distribute milk and bread. A few hours later, he decided to continue with his deliveries, but he was stopped by British soldiers and beaten. Paddy suffered a massive heart attack and died as result of his ordeal.
John McKerr was opening Corpus Christi chapel for people attending a funeral later that morning when a British army sniper shot him. Despite harassment from British soldiers, local residents went to his aid and remained at his side until an ambulance arrived. He died of his wounds on August 20.
Springhill Massacre – The Victims
Paddy Butler, aged 38, was married with six children and worked for Belfast Corporation most of his life. British army snipers had been positioned in Corry’s timber yard and had fired without warning into the Westrock/Springhill areas, already seriously injuring a number of people.
At that point, Paddy went to get the local priest Fr Noel Fitzpatrick. It was at this time that someone had said that a young girl had been shot further down near Corry’s. Paddy Butler and Fitzpatrick had just walked out into the open when a sniper from Corry’s opened fire at them. The bullet passed through Fitzpatrick and hit Butler, killing them both.
Fifteen-year-old David McCafferty was shot by the same sniper as he tried to retrieve the bodies.
Margaret Gargan , who was struck by a single British army bullet as she spoke with a number of friends, and David McCafferty were the youngest victims that night.
John Dougal had left school the month before and was 16-years-old. He, along with a friend, was going to the aid of another wounded man when both lads were shot by the British. John died several hours later.
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