The families of 11 people murdered by British paratroopers in west Belfast 40 years ago have said they are “deeply disappointed” by the decision to refuse an independent investigation into their deaths.
The Ballymurphy Massacre Group, whose loved ones were killed during a 36-hour period after the introduction of internment-without-trial in August 1971, described a response by British Direct Ruler Owen Paterson as “totally unacceptable and disrespectful”.
They were speaking after Mr Paterson wrote to them to say that “having considered the case carefully, I decided that a public inquiry or international independent investigation would not be in the public interest because other investigative processes were already under way”.
It is understood Paterson was referring to a police investigation by the PSNI’s Historical Enquiries Team (HET).
The families have been campaigning for years for an independent inquiry into the events during disturbances between August 9 and 11 1971.
Ten of the victims, including a mother-of-eight and a Catholic priest, were shot by the soldiers. An 11th died of a heart attack after being intimidated by troops.
Some British soldiers involved in the massacre have openly admitted engaging in illegal actions such as planting bullets on the bodies of those killed -- but have never been called to testify.
Padraig O Muirigh, a lawyer representing the families, described Mr Paterson’s decision as “a slap in the face”.
“The campaign for truth will go on despite the correspondence from Owen Paterson but I think it’s imperative now that the Taoiseach intervenes and meets with the families directly and puts pressure on the British government to re assess their decision in this case,” he said.
“This campaign will go on until the full truth unfolds.”
In a group statement read by Briege Voyle, whose mother Joan Connolly was among those killed, the relatives said that at a meeting with the families in October 2010, Paterson “made a commitment to us that he would make a decision on this issue in early 2011”.
“The delay and manner of his response is totally unacceptable and disrespectful to the families,” she said.
Mrs Voyle said the group has “no confidence in the HET’. It requested a meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron and called for “leadership” from Taoiseach Enda Kenny on the matter.
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams has described of an investigation into the massacre as “disgraceful”.
He accused Mr Patterson of “significantly adding to the grief and trauma of the families of the 11 citizens who were killed by the British Parachute Regiment in August 1971.”
The Sinn Fein leader strongly criticised the claim that an inquiry was “not in the public interest”.
Mr Adams said: “None of the 11 dead in Ballymurphy had any connection to any armed group. They were all innocent civilians. Their deaths were part of a planned policy by the British government to pacify the community using the British Parachute Regiment.
“The inquests held into the Ballymurphy victims at that time were a fraud and part of the process of cover-up that accompanied British state killings in the north.
“The families have no confidence in the HET or believe that the HET can achieve the truth they are seeking.”
He urged the Dublin government and all of those in Irish America and Washington who have endorsed the families’ campaign for justice to redouble their efforts and to communicate to the British government their condemnation of the British decision.
“I support the families demand that the role of the British state and of its armed forces in the killing of their relatives warrants a full, thorough international investigation and an apology from the British government which recognises their innocence.
“The decision by Mr Paterson will cause great hurt for the families.”
Members of the Ballymurphy Massacre group are to take part in march in Belfast this Saturday alongside other nationalists who continue to campaign on truth and justice issues. The march is being held in conjunction with the controversial visit to the north of Ireland next week of British monarch Elizabeth Windsor.