The statement made by Brandon Lewis, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, in the House of Commons on 13 May 2021.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the findings of the Ballymurphy inquest. I want to put on the record the Government’s acknowledgment of the terrible hurt that has been caused to the families of Francis Quinn, Father Hugh Mullan, Noel Phillips, Joan Connolly, Daniel Teggart, Joseph Murphy, Edward Doherty, John Laverty, Joseph Corr and John McKerr.
I also want to pay tribute to the great patience with which the families have conducted themselves during their determined campaign, which has lasted almost 50 years. The Prime Minister is writing personally to the families, having yesterday expressed his deep regret to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland and apologised unreservedly on behalf of the state.
The findings of the coroner are clear: those who died were entirely innocent of wrongdoing. The events at Ballymurphy should never have happened. The families of those who were killed should never have had to experience the grief and trauma of that loss. They should not have had to wait nearly five decades for the judgment this week, nor should they have been compelled to relive that terrible time in August 1971 again and again in their long and distressing quest for truth.
Over the course of the troubles, more than 3,500 people were killed, and tens of thousands injured, with families torn apart forever. The majority of those killed were innocent civilians, such as those on the streets of Ballymurphy.
The vast majority of those who served in Northern Ireland did so with great dignity and professionalism, but it is clear that in some cases the security forces and the Army made terrible errors too. The duty of the state is to hold itself to the highest standards at all times. When we fail to meet these high standards, we must recognise the hurt and agony caused.
There is no doubt that what happened in Ballymurphy in those awful few days also fuelled further violence and escalation, particularly in the early years of the troubles. The Government profoundly regret and are truly sorry for these events, for how investigations after these terrible events were handled, and for the additional pain that the families have had to endure in their fight to clear the names of their loved ones since they began their campaign almost five decades ago.
In order to make lasting change, actions are required as well. The Belfast Good Friday agreement was the defining action that allowed Northern Ireland to begin to move away from violence, but the events of the past continue to cast a long shadow, as we have seen. Those who were killed or injured during the troubles came from all communities, and they included many members of the security forces and armed forces. Immense and difficult compromises have since been made on all sides, including the early release of prisoners, which was so difficult for many people to accept.
To a very large extent, Northern Ireland has moved away from violence, so we stand by those compromises and the progress made towards a more peaceful society. Yet the desire of the families of victims to know the truth about what happened to their loved ones is strong, legitimate and right. The campaign for justice in Ballymurphy has reminded us all of that—if we needed to be reminded at all.
Twenty-three years after the signing of the Belfast Good Friday agreement, thousands of murders remain unresolved and many families still yearn for answers. With each passing year, the integrity of evidence and the prospects of prosecution diminish, and the Government are not shrinking away from those challenges. We are determined to address them in a way that reflects the time that has passed, the complexity of Northern Ireland’s troubled history and the reality of the compromises that have already been made. But above all, we are determined to address them in a way that enables victims and survivors to get to the truth that they deserve. We must never ignore or dismiss the past; learning what we can, we must find a way to move beyond it. The coroner’s findings this week are part of that often very painful process.
The Government want to deliver a way forward in addressing the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland; one that will allow all individuals or families who want information to seek and receive answers about what happened during the troubles, with far less delay and distress. We want a path forward that will also pave the way for wider societal reconciliation for all communities, allowing all the people of Northern Ireland to focus on building a shared, stable, peaceful and prosperous future. I commend this statement to the House.