THE families of 10 people shot dead by the British army during the Troubles have seen justice for their loved ones today as a coroner ruled that they were all innocent victims.
The Ballymurphy Inquests, which began in November 2018, examined the deaths which occurred in and around the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast over three days in August 1971.
A total of 10 people were shot between August 9 and 11, 1971. Another died after suffering a heart attack, whose case was not part of the inquests.
The Army said it fired in response to shots from republican paramilitaries.
The killings took place during Operation Demetrius, when people suspected of paramilitary activity were detained without trial.
Victims included a Catholic priest, who was trying to help the wounded, and a mother of eight.
Nine of the 10 victims were killed by the Army, coroner Mrs Justice Keegan ruled today.
She could not definitively say who shot the tenth victim, John McKerr.
It took Mrs Keegan more than two hours to deliver her findings, in which she ruled out paramilitary involvement by any of those killed, and described them as "entirely innocent of any wrongdoing on the day in question".
The families of the victims have been campaigning for justice for their loved ones for decades.
At a press conference held this afternoon, following the verdicts, the families issued a statement saying their loved ones had "finally had their names cleared".
Responding to today’s findings, Simon Coveney, Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, described them as “vindication for the families”.
“While we will need to examine the full detail of the Coroner’s statement, the principal findings have cast a tremendous new light on one of the darkest pages of the history of the conflict, and will come as an immense relief and vindication for the families who have maintained for decades that their loved ones were innocent and their killings unjustified,” he said.
“Today’s historic developments wouldn’t have been possible without the determined campaign by the families of those killed in Ballymurphy for the truth of what took place in those terrible days in August 1971.
“I have met with the families during the course of their campaign and I want to acknowledge and pay tribute to that extraordinary achievement. All of them are in our thoughts today.”
He added: “The deaths at Ballymurphy were part of the tragic legacy of the Troubles which saw the loss of over 3500 lives from all communities.
“Every family bereaved in the conflict must have access to an effective investigation and to a process of justice regardless of the perpetrator.
“All victims’ families deserve support in securing all the information possible about what happened to their loved ones.”
A similar response came from Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) Leader Colum Eastwood, who welcomed the findings this afternoon.
“The findings of the Ballymurphy Inquest today are an absolute vindication of the long campaign for truth that these families have waged over fifty years," he said.
“They have stood against attempts to blacken the names of their loved ones, attempts to deny the truth and rewrite the past.”
He added: “Today they can stand proudly in the knowledge that their friends and family were entirely innocent of wrongdoing and the whole world knows it.
“I want to thank Mrs Justice Keegan for her forensic explanation of the inquest findings and the work she has done over the course of months of harrowing testimony.
“Listening to the events that led to the murder of innocent people in Ballymurphy fifty years ago was heartbreaking. The finding that there was ‘basic inhumanity’ in the treatment of people in West Belfast during those three days is stark but hardly surprising when victims shot by British Army soldiers were left to suffer critical wounds without medical assistance. Inhuman is the right word.
“Today the Ballymurphy families can stand proudly in the knowledge that their friends and family were entirely innocent of wrongdoing and the whole world knows it. But it should shame the British establishment that they forced innocent people to fight for so long and made that journey so difficult.”