Boris Johnson apologizes for British army’s 1971 killing of Belfast civilians

One bereaved relative brands UK leader's statement an insult.

Boris Johnson apologizes for British army’s 1971 killing of Belfast civilians

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson offered an apology for the British army’s killing a half-century ago of innocent Belfast Catholics, but says his government remains determined to end “the cycle of reinvestigations.”

Johnson’s words of contrition came in a Downing Street statement issued after he spoke by videoconference Wednesday to the joint leaders of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government, Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill. It was swiftly branded an “insult” by relatives of those killed.

His prepared remarks followed a Belfast judge’s ruling that the 10 people fatally shot in Ballymurphy, west Belfast, in August 1971 were innocent and unarmed civilians, not Irish Republican Army gunmen as British authorities had branded them for decades.

“The prime minister apologized unreservedly on behalf of the U.K. government for the events that took place in Ballymurphy and the huge anguish that the lengthy pursuit of truth has caused the families of those killed,” the statement said.

But it added that the government was determined “to deliver a way forward in Northern Ireland that focuses on reconciliation, delivers for victims of the Troubles and ends the cycle of reinvestigations.”

While the government has yet to publish its legislation on the matter, Northern Ireland parties have been briefed that Johnson wants to block further investigations into any of the approximately 300 killings committed by soldiers during three decades of conflict over the U.K. region.

Johnson’s off-camera apology marked a fundamental departure from several predecessors, who as part of Northern Ireland peacemaking offered a string of high-profile public statements declaring British responsibility for key injustices in Ireland. These include Tony Blair’s 1997 statement of regret for Ireland’s mid-19th century famine that claimed a million lives and David Cameron’s 2010 condemnation of Bloody Sunday in 1972, when soldiers killed 13 unarmed demonstrators.

Neither Foster nor O’Neill acknowledged Johnson’s apology in their own post-meeting statements.

“I spoke to Boris Johnson and put to him that he should apologize to the families of those killed in Ballymurphy by British state forces,” O’Neill said in a tweet. “After 50 years of cover-up and lies they have been vindicated and their innocence declared. Attempts to deny access to justice [are] reprehensible.”

Relatives of the Ballymurphy dead rejected Johnson’s written apology and vowed to sue the Ministry of Defence for damages.

“This is not an apology to the families. It’s an insult,” said John Teggart, whose father was fatally struck by 14 bullets.

“His apology means nothing,” said Briege Voyle, whose mother died from a high-velocity shot to the head. “We need the MoD to tell the truth, to tell our legal team the names of the soldiers who murdered our loved ones and ask them why.”