By Rebecca Black and Michelle Devane, PA
The son of an innocent man killed by soldiers in Ballymurphy 50 years ago has rejected a “third party apology” from Boris Johnson.
John Teggart queried why the British prime minister did not make a public apology.
A Downing Street spokesman said that in a conversation with the North's First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, Mr Johnson “apologised unreservedly on behalf of the UK Government”.
However the apology was not referenced in either DUP or Sinn Féin statements following the virtual meeting which focused on coronavirus.
In a statement a Sinn Féin spokesperson said Ms O’Neill challenged Mr Johnson to apologise to the Ballymurphy families.
They said she was told that Secretary of State Brandon Lewis was intending to make a statement around Ballymurphy at Westminster on Thursday.
“Michelle O’Neill put it to Boris Johnson that he should apologise to the families of those killed in Ballymurphy by British state forces,” they said.
On Tuesday, Coroner Mrs Justice Keegan found that 10 people killed in Ballymurphy in August 1971 were “entirely innocent”.
She found that nine of the 10 had been killed by soldiers, and found that the use of lethal force was not justified.
Mrs Justice Keegan 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.
The Downing Street spokesman said Mr Johnson said the conclusions of the Ballymurphy Inquest were “deeply sad and that the events of August 1971 were tragic”.
“The Prime Minister apologised unreservedly on behalf of the UK Government for the events that took place in Ballymurphy and the huge anguish that the lengthy pursuit of truth has caused the families of those killed.”
Mr Teggart said it is an “insult to the families” that Mr Johnson’s apology came in a conversation with others.
“The apology was to third parties, it wasn’t to the Ballymurphy families,” he told the BBC.
“It’s not a public apology … what kind of insult is it to families that he couldn’t have the conversation with ourselves. His office couldn’t come and speak to the families of what he was doing.
“That’s not acceptable to the families and never will be. This is not an apology to us.”
Breige Voyle, whose mother Joan Connolly was killed in Ballymurphy, dismissed Mr Johnson’s apology.
“Why are we only hearing about this now,” she said.
“Is he trying to sneak it in. I don’t care about an apology, I want to know why, our loved ones were all completely innocent so why were they shot.
“His apology means nothing, we need him to go back to the MoD [Ministry of Defence] and tell them to tell the truth, tell our legal team the names of the soldiers who murdered our loved ones and ask them why.”
She said an apology by Mr Johnson in the UK House of Commons would have “at least been a bit more respectful… as if he is holding us in a wee bit of respect but to do it this way is trying to push it under the carpet”.
The Taoiseach encouraged the British government to respond in a “comprehensive and fulsome” way to the findings of the inquest.
Micheál Martin said the Government continues to stand in solidarity with the Ballymurphy families as the 50th anniversary of the killings approaches and that the inquest findings are clear that the victims were “entirely innocent”.
He added that the persistence of their families had been “remarkable” and a tribute to their “absolute determination to establish the truth”.
Mr Martin said: “I would encourage the British government to respond in a comprehensive and fulsome way to the finding that 10 completely innocent people were shot and killed.
“I would encourage them to acknowledge and affirm the innocence of the Ballymurphy victims.
“I would encourage them to understand the depth of the pain and grief felt by the families and how that pain and grief was compounded by the untruths that were told about their loved ones.
“This should be done in a manner that respects the wishes of these families.”
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney welcomed Mr Johnson’s statement of apology, but said he hoped an apology could be made in “a more public way”.
Mr Coveney said: “It is welcome that the British prime minister has apologised but I certainly hope that the prime minister will now find an opportunity to make that apology publicly, either in the British parliament or directly to the families concerned, because that is the least the families deserve.
“They have waited 50 years to clear the names of their loved ones – 10 innocent people unarmed who were shot dead five decades ago – and I think an apology is appropriate and necessary and I hope it can be done in a more public way than has been the case to date.”