Tánaiste’s Dáil distortion of facts about Ballymurphy Massacre

“The Ballymurphy killings were part of the immediate aftermath of the introduction of internment. As violence flared, gun battles broke out between members of the IRA and the British Army. In the midst of this chaos, 11 people were shot by the British Army in Ballymurphy.” – Tánaiste Joan Burton’s distortion in the Dáil of the facts on Wednesday 14 July 2015 as stunned Ballymurphy families watched from the public gallery.

IN AUGUST 1971, British soldiers gunned down in cold blood ten unarmed civilians. An eleventh person died of a heart attack after he was subjected to a mock execution by British soldiers who placed a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

Much like the events of Bloody Sunday less than six months later, the British Army’s shock troops of the Parachute Regiment claimed they had come under fire from republicans – thus attempting to justify their rampage through this west Belfast neighbourhood. As with Bloody Sunday, eyewitnesses were adamant that the firing came from one direction only – that of the British troops.

The Tánaiste’s ignorance of one of the worst atrocities in the history of the conflict – and during a Dáil debate – is at odds with her deep interest in incidents which involve victims of republican violence.

Ballymurphy families 2015 Dáil

Of course, victims of republican violence can often be used to attack Sinn Féin and to deflect and derail from answering tough questions in the Dáil on Government policy. The victims of British state and unionist violence offer her no such tactical advantage – therefore their suffering can be treated with indifference, ignorance or falsehoods.

At the time of the massacre, some Irish newspapers swallowed the British propaganda which the Irish Labour Party leader read into the Dáil record on Wednesday.

The Irish Independent reported at the time:

“Reverend Hugh Mullan was killed last night in Belfast following his attempt to administer the Last Rites to a dying guerrilla fighter in the New Barnsley area.”

The “dying guerrilla fighter” was in fact local civilian Bobby Clarke, who had been shot by a British soldier while walking across a field.

Bobby had been helping evacuate women and children from nearby houses which were under attack from loyalist mobs. He had just carried an 18-month-old child to safety and was returning to help others when he was shot.

The local priest phoned Henry Taggart British Army base to let them know he was going to administer the Last Rites to the wounded man. After anointing him, the priest attempted to return back through the field to get an ambulance. It was then that a British sniper on the roof of a nearby flats complex shot Fr Mullan. Witnesses could hear the priest praying aloud for some time as he lay dying. Bobby Clarke, the man he had anointed, miraculously survived.

Also killed in the Ballymurphy Massacre was grandmother Joan Connolly.

She was shot in the face by a British soldier as she went to the aid of a wounded man who was lying in the street near the barracks.

Even after the massacre, soldiers targeted the families.

Briege Voyle, Joan’s daughter, told An Phoblacht:

“We had already been through a terrible ordeal but it didn’t stop there. The paratroopers continued to torture us. They used to sing ‘Where’s your mama gone?’ [the chorus of a pop song Number One in the charts] outside our door and you couldn’t walk down the street without them taunting you. We were all so terrified.”

Joan Burton, of course, never bothered to inform herself of this. Such a horrific massacre, carried out by the British Army’s elite paratroopers against besieged nationalist civilians just months before they went on to gun down 14 Civil Rights marchers on Bloody Sunday in Derry isn’t the narrative that has been pushed by the Southern Establishment ad nauseum.

The Irish Government claims it will do all it can to help the Ballymurphy families in their quest for justice. But if the most senior elected representatives of that Government can display such wilful, unmitigated ignorance of the topic – can we really take their assurances seriously?