If Britons saw the true horrors of the massacres, they would be outraged, says RICHARD RUDKIN
HAVING given my support to the Ballymurphy Massacre Campaign for Justice, it was a privilege to be in west Belfast on August 11 to attend the debate in St Mary’s College on the Falls Road and listen to an invited panel discuss the question: “Should British soldiers be above the law?”
The question related to the call for the government by veterans that served in Northern Ireland, supported by the DUP and MPs from other parties, to bring in a “statute of limitations” and take steps to prevent any former soldier from being investigated, charged and stand trial for historical killings.
As this year marks the 46th anniversary of the deaths of 11 people within a 36-hour period over three days in Ballymurphy by members of the parachute regiment, and as I believe no one should be exempt from prosecution, I was keen to hear what argument would be made to suggest the British Army should be protected by a statute of limitations.
And as a former soldier, I was also eager to submit the counter argument: why impunity of any kind for ex-security forces that served in Northern Ireland must never become law.
The panel comprised of Alliance Party MLA Trevor Lunn, human rights lawyer Padraig O’Muirigh, Guardian journalist Ian Cobain and Ballymurphy Campaign committee member John Teggart. However, there was one empty chair on the panel.
To my disappointment but not my surprise, John Teggart informed me that despite being invited, not one Unionist politician was available to attend. I’m sure my disappointment was outweighed by that of the families who have campaigned with dignity for many years to discover the truth of why their loved ones were killed.
Without a Unionist representative, the panel lacked balance. Nevertheless, what became clear during the meeting was the lack of mainstream media coverage of the events that occurred in Northern Ireland during the Troubles — like the Ballymurphy Massacre and the bombing of McGurk’s Bar.
In response to a question from one of the relatives of the Ballymurphy Massacre on why you never read or hear about the campaign in “mainland” Britain, Cobain, who first highlighted the killings in the Guardian, suggested that there was a lack of appetite outside of Ireland to cover this issue by the British mainstream media.
I have to disagree. The British public would be very interested indeed had a they been presented with a balanced view of what occurred in Northern Ireland, who was involved and how the lack of a proper investigation led not only to the killings on Bloody Sunday but also in the upsurge of volunteers willing to join the IRA.
Is it not possible that the families in Britain, like the ones in Northern Ireland, would demand answers to some very difficult questions if they had been made aware of the fact that the lack of investigations into events dating back to 1970 actually escalated the “Troubles,” which led to many more deaths not only of innocent people in Northern Ireland and in Britain too but possibly the deaths of British soldiers this government claims it values and respects?
Could this be one reason why successive British governments, with their friends in the mainstream media, are doing their level best to ensure the truth about the Falls Road curfew, Ballymurphy Massacre, McGurk’s Bar, Loughin Island Massacre, etc and other incidents never fully disclosed?
Although the families have received personal support from some current and former politicians, there appears to be a reluctance by serving politicians to openly support this cause by giving high-profile press interviews or even appear on discussion panels like the one I attended to support the families. Unfortunately I can understand why.
Imagine Jeremy Corbyn or any of the shadow cabinet giving an interview to any of the mainstream media highlighting the killings in Ballymurphy and explaining why an independent inquiry, like the one that helped obtain justice for the relatives of Hillsborough, must be instigated and, where applicable, criminal prosecutions should follow.
They might go on to highlight that evidence uncovered in the case of McGurk’s Bar bombing in December 1971, which killed 15 people, points to collusion and cover-up by the British government and the importance of discovering the truth into why Father Hugh Mullan was shot dead when going to assist an injured woman?
Moreover, how come he was shot twice from behind, with one of the wounds entering his body under the raised arm holding a white cloth, the international sign of truce?
They might go on to to stress the importance of investigating witness statements, stating unarmed wounded civilians were beaten, denied treatment then left to die and in some cases executed while lying wounded.
Can you imagine the front page of any of the tabloids the next morning? “Terrorist sympathiser Corbyn wants our heroes prosecuted.”
A headline like this, presented without a grain of truth, would be picked up by every right-wing news outlet and would no doubt do some political damage. So here lies the problem.
While the Morning Star will never shy away from its duty of highlighting injustice, the tabloid press continue to smear anyone that contradicts their narrative that all soldiers are heroes.
Personally, I find nothing heroic about shooting unarmed civilians.
On the contrary, if the mainstream media valued “heroes” as much as they claim to do, then, surely, they would support the truth and justice campaign, an independent panel to bring to justice those that may have committed crimes and support an investigation into British government collusion.
By doing this, the media would indeed show support to the soldiers that acted within the law.
To do this would require a heroic act by the mainstream media. However, going by their interpretation of what a hero is, I won’t hold me breath.