Statement by Bishop Noel Treanor on the handing over of Church archive documents to the families of those killed and injured by the British Army in Ballymurphy
30 July 2010
Statement by Bishop Noel Treanor, Bishop of Down and Connor, in St Mary’s University College, Belfast, on the handing over of Church archive documents to the families of those killed and injured by the British Army in Ballymurphy between 9 – 11 August 1971
I am here today to show my support and pastoral concern for the families of those killed and injured during the tragic events of the 9 – 11 of August 1971 in Ballymurphy.
I have met representatives of the families on two previous occasions. Firstly, in May of last year and, more recently, on 10 June of this year. At the first meeting the families asked me to establish what documents, if any, might be held in the archives of the Diocese relating to the events surrounding the death and injury of their loved ones. An initial search of the main archives in the Diocese of Down & Connor and in the Diocese of Armagh yielded no significant results. However, thanks to some very helpful suggestions from the families at the most recent meeting in June, we were able to initiate a more focused search of the archives and of other possible sources, such as parish records. This search will continue in the months ahead and may yet yield further important results.
At the meeting with the families in June, however, I became aware of just how important even the smallest piece of information can be to those who want to establish the truth about what happened to their loved ones who were killed or injured in such violent circumstances. I therefore gave a commitment to the families that I would share with them any information that subsequently emerged at the earliest opportunity.
To that end I am pleased to be able to hand over to the families today two distinct sets of documents which have since discovered since our last meeting. The first is a series of short extracts taken from the personal diary of Cardinal William Conway, at that time Archbishop of Armagh though originally a native of Belfast. While these short extracts do not provide much detail of the events of those days they do convey his personal sentiments and concern for what was happening in Ballymurphy. Most notably, he records on the opening entry of his diary for Wednesday 11 August 1971: ‘I think in a way this was one of the most unhappy days of my life… It was the feeling of hopelessness – of the great suffering in Belfast and my not being able to do much about it’. We are still in the process of checking the diary and will present a compilation of the relevant extracts to the families in the next few days. I am grateful to Cardinal Brady and the Archdiocese of Armagh for making these extracts available.
The second set of documents were discovered in the personal files of Canon Padraig Murphy, then Parish Priest of Corpus Christi Parish which includes Ballymurphy. I am very grateful to the executors of Canon Murphy’s estate for their permission to release these documents to the families.
These documents will contribute to a wider tapestry of material already gathered by the families of those killed and injured. When put together with other documents they may help to create a fuller picture of the events of those days. They may fill-in certain gaps or open-up new lines of investigation or prompt the memory of important details that have been lost in the midst of time. Some of the documents are incomplete and we will continue to search for the remaining material. Some are hand written and difficult to decipher or ascertain their full significance. Notably, the documents include:
1. An original typed copy of a ‘Report’ summarising the main findings of several eyewitness accounts of ‘the events of August 9th 1971 in the Springfield Park area of Belfast’ taken ‘about a fortnight after the incident’. The eyewitnesses cited in the Report include ‘a serving member of the British Army’, a member of the British Navy who returned to his ship shortly after the shootings and an ex Irish Guardsman. This Report was complied by a Thomas J. Glynn (M.Sc.), Edna Arthurs (B.A., Cert. Ed) and Eugene G. Arthurs (B.Sc), possibly at the request of Canon Murphy – though this has yet to be definitively established. We would be most interested to hear from anyone who might know something about these authors and how they came to be tasked with taking the evidence of the witnesses listed. It is likely that at least one of the report’s authors was a teacher. Sadly, we do not appear to have all the accompanying witness statements, though I understand some of this documentation may already be in the possession of the families.
Critically, the authors of the Report list seven ‘important conclusions’ based on the eyewitness accounts. They conclude, for example, that ‘the Army fired on two first-aid men wearing white helmets and carrying a first-aid kit’, that they fired on and killed a number of people, including Fr Hugh Mullan, who were clearly carrying a white emblem, ‘the international symbol of truce’, and that they fired on and killed people who were clearly going to the assistance of women and children fleeing a hostile mob. Critically, in the final paragraphs of the Report, the authors conclude that on the basis of the eye-witness accounts they have listened that they ‘are convinced that the British Army Units involved, whether through fear or vindictiveness unnecessarily fired a large number of rounds into the waste grounds across which innocent men, women and children were fleeing…Certainly the fatalities did not occur in a cross-fire… We feel that there is a sufficient weight of evidence to indict the soldiers on the roof of the Springmartin flats.’
This view is supported by some of the other documents we handing over today. These include:
2. An original typed copy of the statement of one eyewitness, a Mr Robert Clark of 60 Springfield Park, who was himself shot and seriously wounded as he tried to assist women and children. He records how Fr Hugh Mullan approached him carrying a white cloth at shoulder height and how Fr Hugh anointed him. He then describes how Fr Hugh was shot and killed before his eyes and how Frank Quinn was shot coming to the aid of Fr Mullan. At the end of his statement Mr Clark refers to hearing shots that ‘sounded different to the former shots’. This may provide an important link between the Report cited earlier, Mr Clark’s statement and the hand written notes, possibly from Canon Murphy himself, which comprise the third document we are handing over today. This hand written document of some five pages is at times difficult to decipher. It would appear to be first hand notes of an eye witness statement of events on the day. Interestingly, it is possible to determine some reference at the end of the document to a distinction between shots fired from an SLR rifle and so-called ‘303 shots’. This may suggest that the evidence is from someone with a military background and opens up the possibility of a link with the evidence given by the serving British soldier in the Report cited earlier. An address in England is also given. All of this will require closer examination to establish the full significance of this document.
3. Two other shorter documents have been discovered in the same hand writing, presumed to be that of Canon Murphy. One contains a substantial list of names and addresses of what are presumed to be known witnesses along with a few occasional comments or notes. The other shorter document seems to be some brief notes taken from a witness to the events.
4. We are also handing over a small number of newspaper clippings of reportage on the events at the time, notably in an English Catholic newspaper which is unlikely to have been easily accessible to the families at that time of since. Interestingly, the newspaper cites the following statement by Bishop Philbin, the Bishop of Down and Connor at the time. Bishop Philbin’s statement reads: ‘The circumstances of Fr Mullan’s death call for the most rigorous investigation in the interests of justice and truth and in the hope of bringing the present dreadful contagion of killing to an end.’ I repeat that call for a rigorous investigation today.
5. Finally, we have discovered some personal letters belonging to the late Fr Hugh Mullan relating to his time as a seminarian. As these do not relate in any way to the events in Ballymurphy but will be of interest to Fr Hugh’s family for personal reason copies of these will be given only to Fr Hugh’s family.
I want to repeat again that these are only the findings of our most recent search of Church records and we will continue to explore all avenues to ascertain if any other relevant information may be in the possession of the Church. I say this as an indication of my commitment, and the commitment of the Church in this Diocese, to assist the families of those killed and injured in Ballymurphy during 9-11 August 1971 in establishing the truth of what happened.
The events of those days in Ballymurphy were a disturbing prelude to the events of Bloody Sunday only six months later. Both were seminal events that profoundly influenced the future direction of the Troubles. The families of those killed and injured rightly wonder as we all do, what could have been avoided if the evidence of eye witnesses like those cited today had been treated with the importance and respect it deserved at the time. What could have been avoided if the institutions of law and order charged with the safety and care of all citizens had taken action on the basis of these reliable testimonies to ensure the Army never acted in such a reckless and indiscriminate manner again. Instead, as in Bloody Sunday, the reputations of those who were killed and injured were actively besmirched and the evidence of reliable eye witnesses was either ignored or actively discredited. This has led me to the view that the Ballymurphy killings are the unfinished business of the Saville Inquiry. Indeed the events in Ballymurphy on 9-11 August 1971 would and perhaps should have been considered the necessary starting point for such an inquiry.
This is not to say that I – or as I understand the families – are seeking an expensive and lengthy Saville style Inquiry into these events. It should be possible to find a mechanism of investigation into these and other events of the Troubles sufficiently efficient, robust and independent to contribute to a meaningful healing of memory and to a vindication of the truth for the individuals and communities involved.
It does not always require a Saville style Inquiry to provide sufficient grounds for an apology for actions that were manifestly wrong or to uphold the innocence of those who were manifestly innocent or entitled to the presumption of innocence. In the case of the Ballymurphy killings, sufficient eye witness and other evidence is available to render an efficient mechanism of investigation and assessment realistic and achievable, one which could quickly justify the inclusion of those killed and injured in the spirit and scope of the apology issued by the British Government following the publication of the Saville Inquiry.
On the basis of the eye witness testimony in these and other documents alone, it is difficult to see how any such investigation would not justify a re-echoing of the following words of that apology: ‘What happened should never, ever have happened. The families of those who died should not have had to live with the pain and hurt of that day – and a lifetime of loss. Some members of our Armed Forces acted wrongly…And for that, on behalf of the Government – and indeed our country – I am deeply sorry.’
Finally, let me say that the ongoing legacy of pain experienced by the families gathered here today highlights the need for an agreed, cohesive and comprehensive way of dealing with the violent past of our society. A piecemeal approach to dealing with the past risks contributing to further hurt, alienation and a futile cycle of ‘what-aboutery’. My point today is that there is a strong case for the killings in Ballymurphy to be included in the spirit and scope of the recognition and apology already offered in respect of the events of Bloody Sunday. They are materially connected.
The efficient and effective use of resources is essential to the common good. How we prioritise the use of our limited financial and other resources is an important consideration in any decision about dealing with the past. What is clear is that the past and its memory will continue to have an impact on how we live together into the future. We need to develop efficient, effective and constructive ways of supporting a genuine healing of memory and a safe disclosure of the truth in ways that contribute to peace, cohesion and reconciliation. We need to ensure that how we deal with the past contributes to the well being and quality of life of everyone in our society now and in the future.
To that end I believe the British and Irish Governments should discuss with the relevant institutions of the European Union the potential role those institutions might play in encouraging and supporting just and constructive ways of dealing with the past in Northern Ireland. Such engagement by the European Union on this specific issue would be consistent with the founding values and achievements of the European Union and contribute to deepening further positive relations between the people of Ireland and Britain.
During the coming months I hope that elected representatives, especially those who will participate in the forthcoming debate on the Saville Report in the Westminster Parliament, will give due attention to the material link between the events in Ballymurphy in August 1971 and those of Bloody Sunday. I hope that all of us together will work to find an agreed way of sharing the full truth of what happened to all those killed and injured in the Troubles in the hope of bringing peace, healing and reconciliation to our society and to those who continue to bear the painful wounds of our past.
Fr Edward McGee, Media Liaison Officer, Diocese of Down and Connor, 0044 (0) 78 111 44268
Martin Long, Catholic Communications Office, Maynooth, 00 353 (0) 86 172 7678