In the wake of the Saville report, relatives of 11 people killed in Belfast by the army in 1971 are now calling for an inquiry into their deaths
It has been called west Belfast’s Bloody Sunday. Over 36 hours between 9 and 11 August 1971 – six months before British paratroopers were deployed to Derry with tragic consequences – the Parachute Regiment shot dead 11 civilians in the west Belfast housing estate of Ballymurphy. Those who were fatally wounded included the local priest and a 45-year-old mother.
Now, in the wake of the publication last week of the Saville report on Bloody Sunday, the relatives of those killed 39 years ago in Belfast have called for an international investigation to determine whether the same soldiers were involved in the “Ballymurphy massacre”.
John Teggart’s father, Daniel, was shot 14 times while fleeing an area close to a joint army-police station on the Springfield Road during the violence. Teggart said his father had been visiting his sister’s house when the shooting started. An inquest later found that most of the bullets entered Daniel Teggart’s back while he was lying on the ground after being wounded, his son said.
“This was a massacre on the same scale as Bloody Sunday, although it was forgotten,” said John Teggart.
The shootings occurred during a mass arrest operation in the period of internment, when security forces detained hundreds of nationalists across Northern Ireland without trial. Teggart, however, stressed that there has been no evidence that any of the 11 who fell were armed or carrying explosives. “The paras just went berserk,” he contended.
Teggart said the families of those killed now want an independent international inquiry to establish if any of the same soldiers involved in Bloody Sunday fired fatal shots in Ballymurphy.
“We have been able to establish that among the 500 paratroopers deployed from 8 August, 1 Para – the same unit sent into the Bogside in Derry – was on our streets. It was the same type of operation as the one in Derry on Bloody Sunday. The paras went in hard, they fired incoherently, they shot people lying on the ground. We need an inquiry to establish if those doing the shooting in Ballymurphy were the same ones who opened fire six months later in Derry.”
The parallels between what happened in Ballymurphy and in Derry are uncanny, Teggart said. The death of the local parish priest, Fr Hugh Mullan, recalls the way another priest, the future Catholic Bishop of Derry, Fr Edward Daly, tried to help the wounded on Bloody Sunday.
“The world saw the television pictures of Fr Daly waving a white handkerchief towards the paras in Derry as he tried to save a wounded man being carried through the streets,” said Teggart. “Fr Mullan had telephoned the army base to tell them he was going out to help those wounded in Ballymurphy. He came out waving a piece of cloth, walking towards a field where one of the men shot by the paras lay dying. Fr Mullan was shot as he tried to help a local man and he fell down as he prayed over that man’s body.”
Teggart said the evidence the campaign group have gathered undermines one of Lord Saville’s key conclusions regarding top military officers. The Bloody Sunday report said it could “not criticise General Ford for deciding to deploy soldiers to arrest rioters…” Saville also concluded that General Ford “neither knew nor had reason to know at any stage that his decision would or was likely to result in soldiers firing unjustifiably on that day.”
But the Ballymurphy massacre campaign group said that what happened six months earlier was a clear warning that the paratroopers should not have been deployed against unarmed civilians.
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, who is the local MP, has called for an “international, reputable, neutral and dependable agency” to be brought in to investigate the massacre. SDLP leader and South Down MP Margaret Ritchie last week asked David Cameron to launch an inquiry. The families are expected to meet Northern Ireland secretary Owen Paterson over the next few weeks.
For John Teggart, watching the Derry families celebrate the declarations that their loved ones were innocent stirred mixed emotions.
“We were all delighted for the people of Derry. But it made me think that if the authorities had carried out a proper inquiry of what happened in Ballymurphy six months earlier, instead of calling in the military police to investigate, the paras would never have been deployed in Derry and all those people up there would not have lost their lives.”