Seanad cross-party delegation attends Ballymurphy inquests

Senators (from left) Mark Daly,  Frances Black, Frank Feighan, Rose Conway-Walsh, and Niall Ó Donnghaile
Senators (from left) Mark Daly, Frances Black, Frank Feighan, Rose Conway-Walsh, and Niall Ó Donnghaile
A cross-party delegation of senators is attending the second day of the Ballymurphy inquests in Belfast.

The long-awaited inquests are examining the deaths of ten people killed during shooting incidents involving the British Army in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast in 1971.

The representatives from the Seanad met with relatives of those who lost their lives outside the coroner’s court ahead of heading inside to observe today’s proceedings.

Counsel for coroner Sean Dornan is continuing with an opening statement to the court, with relations of two of the victims due to give evidence about their loved ones this afternoon.

Representatives from Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Labour and an independent travelled to Belfast for the hearing.

Sinn Féin’s Niall Ó Donnghaile and Rose Conway Walsh, Fine Gael’s Frank Feighan, Fianna Fáil’s Mark Daly and independent Frances Black met with family members ahead of the hearing.

Labour’s Ged Nash was due to attend court later in the day.

Families outside the courthouse before the inquests opened yesterday

Mr Ó Donnghaile said: “It is a significant morning for us that we have such a cross party and indeed such a nationally representative group of senators come here to observe proceedings at the Ballymurphy inquest, but to primarily re-engage and engage with the Ballymurphy families to continue showing solidarity with them, to hear their stories and to the ensure them of our support, the Seanad and indeed the broader Oireachtas’s support for them in their campaign and during what is going to be an arduous number of months for them.”

Yesterday, the court heard the families’ contention that the shootings were the result of “illegitimate, unjustified and indiscriminate use of force by the army”.

Inquests investigating the shooting incidents that unfolded over three days in August 1971, referred to as the Ballymurphy Massacre by bereaved relatives, are expected to last for months.

In 2011, Northern Ireland’s attorney general John Larkin directed that new inquests be heard after a long campaign by family members who claimed the original coronial probes were inadequate.

The shootings took place as the army moved into republican strongholds to arrest IRA suspects after the introduction by the Stormont administration of the controversial policy of internment without trial.

Soldiers have long been held responsible for killing all ten in Ballymurphy between 9 and 11 August 1971, but the accepted narrative became clouded earlier this year when former members of the paramilitary

Ulster Volunteer Force came forward to claim their organisation was also involved.

Mr Doran yesterday outlined some of the evidence that will be examined throughout the inquests.

He said each individual incident and death will require “careful scrutiny”.

In what he described as a “very broad observation” on the core issues, he said: “The narrative of the military is legitimate use of force was used at a time of heightened tension and response to specific threats.”

He said this ran contrary to the Ballymurphy families, who say the deaths resulted from “illegitimate, unjustified and indiscriminate use of force by the Army on civilians”

The families claim the military action resulted in the deaths of ten “entirely innocent civilians”.

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