By Rebecca Black, PA
Calls are growing for the UK government to issue an apology to the families of 10 civilians killed in west Belfast in 1971.
Fresh inquests into the deaths involving the British army concluded that the victims were “entirely innocent” and soldiers were responsible for nine of the fatal shootings.
Coroner Mrs Justice Keegan found that the use of lethal force by the army was not justified.
She also criticised the lack of investigation into the 10th death, that of John McKerr, and said she could not definitively rule who had shot him.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and Alliance Party leader Naomi Long urged the Government to “step up and formally apologise for the actions of the Army on the day in question”.
Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt said the shootings should not have happened, adding an apology “swims in the shallow end of where we need to be”.
“I would rather we were in the deep end, and that means an acknowledgement not only of what happened but of the hurt and the ongoing hurt that Ballymurphy caused … acknowledge it in words and in deeds,” he told the BBC’s Stephen Nolan Show.
“Their campaign clearly isn’t over, I think they will be going from truth to a search for justice, and they are totally justified to do that because we believe nobody is above the law no matter what uniform they choose to wear.”
In 2010 former UK prime minister David Cameron apologised to the families of 13 civil rights marchers in Derry in 1972 who were fatally shot by soldiers after an inquiry found all were innocent.
Ms Long said: “We saw how much a similar apology in relation to Bloody Sunday meant to the families there, and I encourage the Government to acknowledge the courage of the Ballymurphy families with a similar statement.”
On Tuesday evening, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis acknowledged the hurt to the families of the 10 people killed, which included a mother of eight and a Catholic priest.
This has been a long road for the Ballymurphy families. 50 years later, the court has considered the evidence and the findings should be accepted. I commend the families for their tenacity. https://t.co/IfIe22gUHP
— Arlene Foster #WeWillMeetAgain (@DUPleader) May 11, 2021
“The Government will carefully consider the extensive findings set out by the coroner, but it is clear that those who died were entirely innocent of wrongdoing,” he said.
A solicitor who represents the Ballymurphy families said they have instigated civil proceedings against the Ministry of Defence.
“In light of these findings and the strong criticisms, they will be pushing on with that,” Padraig O Muirigh said.
Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Arlene Foster, said it had been a “long road for the Ballymurphy families” and commended their tenacity.
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill described a “powerful day”, adding: “It has laid bare for all to see that the British forces murdered their family members, their innocent family members.
“They have always known that and now the whole world sees that is the case.”
The shootings in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast came over three days from August 9th-11th following the controversial introduction of internment without trial.
Soldiers were met with violence across the North as they detained IRA suspects.
Mrs Justice Keegan acknowledged in her lengthy rulings that the killings took place in a “highly charged and difficult environment”.
However, the presiding coroner said it was “very clear” that “all of the deceased in the series of inquests were entirely innocent of any wrongdoing on the day in question”.
Relatives of those killed applauded in Belfast Coroner’s Court as their loved ones were officially found innocent after 50 years.
Misinformation had been circulated that they had been terrorists.
There were celebrations in west Belfast on Tuesday night.
A cavalcade of cars made its way through the streets beeping horns while white flags with the word “innocent” on them were waved.
Original inquests into the Ballymurphy deaths in 1972 returned open verdicts and the bereaved families subsequently pursued a long campaign for fresh probes to be held.
New inquests began in 2018, with the final oral evidence heard last March.