Colum Eastwood welcomes 'total vindication' of Ballymurphy victims and reminds British MPs of similarities with Parachute Regiment killings on Bloody Sunday
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has welcomed the 'total vindication' of the 10 people killed by British paratroopers in Ballymurphy in August 1971 and reminded MPs how members of the same regiment went on to kill 14 people in Derry six months later on Bloody Sunday.
He was speaking in the House of Commons after Coroner Justice Keegan delivered her inquest verdict that Father Hugh Mullan, 38, Frank Quinn, 19, Joan Connolly, 44, Joseph Murphy, 48, Noel Phillips, 19, Daniel Teggart, 44, John Laverty, 20, Joseph Corr, 43, Edward Doherty, 31, and John McKerr, 49, were 'entirely innocent' when they were gunned down by British soldiers over three days in West Belfast almost 50 years ago.
"The families of the Ballymurphy massacre have been absolutely and totally vindicated today. The truth that some people in this House will not want to accept is this: if those people were entirely innocent, the soldiers who killed them were guilty.
"Fifty-seven children lost a parent during the Ballymurphy massacre in August 1971. The families of those innocent victims have marched, met, lobbied and fought for decades so that the whole world would know what they have always known: well, you did it, and I, for one, am inspired by your courage and tenacity. Will this Prime Minister now finally apologise for what those British forces did by murdering 10 entirely innocent people, or will he continue to pursue an amnesty for their killers? That is the question, that is the challenge, and that is the standard that should be met by any country that wants to call itself a democracy," said Mr. Eastwood.
The Derry MP referred to the chilling similarity between what happened in West Belfast over three days in August 1971 and the events in the Bogside on Bloody Sunday.
"Six months after Ballymurphy, the Parachute Regiment came to my city of Derry. They murdered 14 innocent civil rights marchers, unarmed as they were. If Ballymurphy had been properly investigated and properly dealt with by the British Government, Bloody Sunday would not have happened, those people would not have died, and the events that came after would never have happened either.
"This Government need to think again and go back to Stormont House, agreed by two Governments and the majority of the parties in Northern Ireland. As difficult as it is, it is the only way to properly, morally deal with the past that we have all had to suffer.
"I understand that—nobody wants to move on more than the victims of our difficult past—and it is well meaning, but it is absolutely and totally naive. We have tried to move on since 1998, but by not dealing with issues of the past, where are we today? We are mired in the past. How can people be told by a democratic Government that they are not entitled to pursue truth and justice?" asked Mr. Eastwood.
The SDLP MP told MPs other families are awaiting justice and criticised the British Government for refusing to fully release and declassify files relating to the deaths of Paul Whitters in Derry and Julie Livingstone in Belfast. Both were killed within weeks of one another by plastic bullets fired by the British Army.
"Does anybody in this House really believe, as the Government say, that the paramilitaries—the IRA, the Ulster Defence Association, the Ulster Volunteer Force—or the British state will willingly give the victims the truth that they are entitled to? If they do believe that, let me tell them about Paul Whitters, a 15-year-old boy from my city, who was shot by a rubber bullet fired by the RUC on 15 April 1981. His file was finally released a couple of weeks ago, but half of it has been redacted and withheld until 2059. What could possibly be in that file that people need to be worried about?
"Forty years ago today, Julie Livingstone, a 14-year-old from Lenadoon in west Belfast, was hit and killed by a plastic bullet fired from a British Army vehicle. Her file has been closed until 2064. What is the justification for that? How does anybody think that we are going to get to the truth by politely asking the British state or the IRA to give it to us?" he asked.
Mr. Eastwood also criticised the IRA.
"Why do Joanne Mathers’ family have to wait for the IRA to give them the truth? She was 29 years old in 1981 when she was murdered by the IRA for collecting a census form, leaving behind her baby son. Jean McConville’s family had to wait decades to find out where the IRA had buried their mother. Why does anybody believe that any of the state or paramilitary actors will give the victims the truth that they so desperately deserve?"
He concluded: "I understand that we need to move on, but if we do not deal with this properly, morally, and decently, we are going to entrap future generations into dealing and living with this, and into a campaign for truth and justice that will go on and on. The way to make it stop is to get at the truth, and the only way to get at the truth, as we have learned, is through proper judicial investigatory processes. That is the only way we will ever get to the truth. As uncomfortable as all of that is, that is the truth, as we have learned."