Several thousand people took the streets of Belfast city centre last Saturday to call for action on dealing with the legacy of the past. Families bereaved by the actions of the British state told a rally that they deserve the right to truth and justice.
It was the second ‘Time for Truth’ march. Participants marched in three separate groups to Belfast City Hall carrying black flags, banners and pictures of their loved ones. Families of those killed in the Loughinisland massacre, Ballymurphy massacre, Bloody Sunday and the Sean Graham bookmakers were among those who took part in the rally, as well as a score of less well-known campaigns. They have vowed to continue their pursuit of the truth.
Several senior politicians from Sinn Féin joined the march. They backed calls for the implementation of legacy mechanisms and the release of funding for outstanding inquests and stalled investigations by the Police Ombudsman’s Office.
One of those who took part was Carmel Quinn. Her brother, John Laverty, was 20 years old when he shot dead by British soldiers on the Whiterock Road, Belfast on August 11, 1971, during the Ballymurphy Massacre.
Ms Quinn said: “At the moment, we have an inquest that is ongoing and it is nearing completion, but there are families here who haven’t had any kind of recognition or procedure to look into what happened their loves ones.
“Now we are getting some kind of truth of what happened.
“Every family deserves a right to truth and an Article 2 (human rights based) inquest. There is a process there, it’s called the Stormont House Agreement and the mechanisms are there and they need implemented.”
John Kelly, whose 17-year-old brother Michael was among those murdered by soldiers in Bloody Sunday in Derry, said the campaign for truth will continue into the next generation.
“We will achieve truth and justice for our people,” he told the crowd.
Organiser Ciarán MacAirt said the British strategy was clear.
“We need to be very wary as the British State and its police force here have been consistent in their legacy for dealing with the past. They followed a simple three-prong strategy of denial, delay and death.”
The march came the day after two figures associated with continuing cover-up and collusion in the north of Ireland, current PSNI chief George Hamilton and former PSNI Assistant Chief turned Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, received honours from the Queen of England. Hamilton, who is due to retire at the end of the month, received a knighthood for Services to the Crown.
Paddy Murray, lawyer for the Ballymurphy families, addressed the rally the next day saying: “We’ve had many families who have yet to have independent investigations into the deaths of their loved ones yet we’ve had Tory MPs and the DUP bending over backwards to legislate to protect soldiers.
“If one section of society has access to the justice system, that’s not real justice, that’s privilege and it’s imperative that we all stick together until all of the families have justice.”
Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill said the families have been denied access to justice.
“We have joined thousands of families who have come along for the march,” she said.
“They have come together to say that it’s time for truth. What they are asking for is very simple. It is not good enough, it is not tolerable that these families have been denied access to justice.”
“Some of these families have been campaigning for decades and the Ballymurphy families are only having an inquest 48 years on from the killings of their loved ones.
“It is wrong and unacceptable that families have to take to the streets once again to get access to the truth five years after the two governments agreed legacy mechanisms at Stormont House.
“Since then the British government has stalled and delayed the legislation to give effect to these mechanisms.
“That stalling must end, the cover up on the British state’s role in the conflict must end.
“The British government has a responsibility to implement the Stormont House Agreement, fund the legacy inquests and ensure the Police Ombudsman’s office has adequate resources.
“The families of the victims deserve no less.”
There was some good news for campaigners this week after the presiding coroner, Justice Keegan, said she would look another look at the list of legacy inquests this autumn.
After 27 years of waiting for progress, County Tyrone woman Bernie McKearney said she was “heartened” by the move by Justice Keegan which could see an investigation begin into the deaths of her loved ones. Her parents and husband were shot dead by unionist paramilitaries in distinct attacks.
“I am glad to see she is taking a thematic approach because in our opinion it was the same people using the same weapons,” she said.