New direction for Ballymurphy families


The families of 11 people killed by the British Army in west Belfast more than 40 years ago have called for an independent panel to investigate the deaths.

The proposed panel would be chaired by former police ombudsman Nuala O’Loan. They want the panel to examine all documents and papers relating to the killings, which took place in August 1971 amid the introduction of internment without trial.

A proposal for the appointment of The Ballymurphy Independent Panel -- which would be similar to the panel set up to investigate the 1989 Hillsborough Stadium disaster in England -- has already been sent to the London and Dublin governments who have been asked to provide the funding for it.

Former police ombudsman Baroness Nuala O’Loan has already accepted an invitation to chair the panel while human rights lawyer Gareth Pierce has also agreed to be involved, as well as a university academic who sat on the Hillsborough Independent Panel, and four others.

The role of the Hissborough panel was to oversee the release of documents related to the event, ensure that the families and the wider public received the maximum possible disclosure of all relevant information relating to the context, circumstances and aftermath of the tragedy, and provide a comprehensive report.

If given the go-ahead, the Ballymurphy Independent Panel would meet monthly and would be expected to complete its work within 18 months.

The proposal for the panel was launched at an event this week in west Belfast, with representatives from both governments in attendance.

Padraig O Muirigh, a lawyer for the families, said the panel proposal was “an attempt to move the campaign forward” and “break the impasse with the British government who to date have refused to carry out an independent investigation into Ballymurphy”. He said a report compiled by the panel would “establish an evidence base on which further legal actions and new inquests could be progressed.”

Fr Tim Bartlett, who attended the launch event as a representative of Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr Noel Treanor said the Catholic Church was “lending our full support to what we regard as a really responsible, realistic, reasonable and achievable proposal which has been proven to work at relatively minimal cost in the Hillsborough enquiry and yet to produce very important findings”.

In a statement the families said “they have amassed strong evidence that all who died were killed unlawfully and in breach of Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

“The case raises serious questions regarding human rights abuses committed by the British Army and of a culture of impunity in the north of Ireland in which members of the security forces routinely were above the law.”

The families have criticised the original PSNI (then RUC) investigation into the killings at the time. They have also expressed no confidence into the review of the deaths currently being conducted by the PSNI’s Historical Enquires team (HET).

Members of the Parachute Regiment claimed they opened fire after being shot at by republicans during Operation Demetrius in 1971. A Catholic priest and a mother-of-eight were among those killed.

After an application from the families the attorney general directed the coroner to re-open inquests into the deaths in November 2011.

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