Boris Johnson accused of shielding ex-soldiers from justice after Belfast killings apology
Irish nationalists say there must be accountability for ‘sheer bloody murder’ in Belfast 50 years ago.
Irish nationalist leaders accused U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson of shielding retired British soldiers from justice and failing the families of those they killed a half-century ago.
Criticisms intensified after Johnson’s secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, read a detailed apology Thursday in the House of Commons to the relatives of 10 unarmed Catholics fatally shot in Ballymurphy, west Belfast, over a three-day period in August 1971.
Lewis said Johnson would write to each family expressing remorse for their loss following a Belfast judge’s ruling this week that all those slain were unarmed innocents posing no threat to soldiers. British authorities had long defended the killings by describing the dead — including a Catholic priest and a mother of eight — as armed Irish Republican Army activists.
“This government profoundly regrets and is truly sorry for these events, at how investigations after these terrible events were handled, and for the additional pain that the families have had to endure in their fight to clear the names of their loved ones since they began their campaign almost five decades ago,” Lewis told MPs.
His remarks came a day after Johnson issued his own third-person apology via a Downing Street press release. That infuriated relatives of the Ballymurphy dead, many of whom want soldiers who fired the fatal shots to be prosecuted and their commanders — among them the army’s former top figure, General Michael Jackson — to be stripped of honors.
Instead, Johnson’s government is planning legislation that would ban further prosecutions connected to any of the approximately 3,700 killings committed as part of the three-decade conflict over Northern Ireland preceding the Good Friday peace accord of 1998.
Lewis said soldiers at times had “made terrible errors,” but the government wanted people seeking the truth about killings to gain this information “with far less delay and distress” than criminal prosecutions would afford.
The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), which represents moderate Irish nationalist opinion in Northern Ireland, accused the British government of twisting basic facts to avoid accountability.
“The secretary of state says that the British army made terrible errors in Northern Ireland,” SDLP leader Colum Eastwood told Lewis from across the Commons chamber. He then described what the Belfast judge had concluded about the 44-year-old woman slain in Ballymurphy 50 years ago.
“Joan Connolly was a mother of eight. She was shot by the British army four times. She was left lying on the ground for hours to die,” Eastwood said.
“That is not an error. That is sheer bloody murder,” he said. “Will the secretary of state ask the prime minister to come out of hiding, come with me, meet the Ballymurphy families, and tell them to their faces why he wants to protect their killers?”