Cross-party delegation of senators offer support for Ballymurphy families

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A cross party delegation of Irish senators are attending the second day of the Ballymurphy inquests to show solidarity with the bereaved families.

The representatives from the upper house of the Irish parliament met with relatives outside the coroner’s court in Belfast ahead of heading inside to observe proceedings in the high profile case.

The long-awaited inquests are examining the deaths of 10 people killed during shooting incidents involving the British Army in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast in 1971.

Counsel for coroner Sean Doran QC will continue with an opening statement to the court on Tuesday morning, with relations of two of the victims due to give evidence about their loved ones later in the day.

Representatives from Sinn Fein, Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, the Labour party and an independent member of the Seanad travelled to Belfast for the hearing.

Sinn Fein’s Niall O Donnghaile and Rose Conway Walsh, Fine Gael’s Frank Feighan, Fianna Fail’s Mark Daly and independent Frances Black met with family members ahead of the hearing.

Labour’s Ged Nash was due to attend court later in the day.

Mr O Donnghaile said: “It is a significant morning for us that we have such a cross party and indeed such a nationally representative group of senators come here to observe proceedings at the Ballymurphy inquest, but to primarily re-engage and engage with the Ballymurphy families to continue showing solidarity with them, to hear their stories and to the ensure them of our support, the Seanad and indeed the broader Oireachtas’s [Irish parliament] support for them in their campaign and during what is going to be an arduous number of months for them.”

On Monday, the court heard the families’ contention that the shootings were the result of “illegitimate, unjustified and indiscriminate use of force by the [British] Army”.

Inquests investigating the shooting incidents that unfolded over three days in August 1971, referred to as the Ballymurphy Massacre by bereaved relatives, are expected to last for months.

In 2011, Northern Ireland’s Attorney General John Larkin directed that new inquests be heard after a long campaign by family members who claimed the original coronial probes were inadequate.

The shootings took place as the Army moved into republican strongholds to arrest IRA suspects after the introduction by the Stormont administration of the controversial policy of internment without trial.

Ballymurphy inquest
The Ballymurphy Massacre victims (Ballymurphy Families)

On Monday, Mr Doran outlined some of the evidence that will be examined throughout the inquests.

He said each individual incident and death will require “careful scrutiny”.

In what he described as a “very broad observation” on the core issues, he said: “The narrative of the military is legitimate use of force was used at a time of heightened tension and response to specific threats.”

He said this ran contrary to the Ballymurphy families, who say the deaths resulted from “illegitimate, unjustified and indiscriminate use of force by the Army on civilians”.

The families claim the military action resulted in the deaths of 10 “entirely innocent civilians”.

Mr Doran said the original investigations into the deaths were “very limited”, adding that there are multiple examples of failure to get witness accounts and examples that show forensic opportunities were missed.

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