9 August 2007 Edition
Interview : Andrée Murphy of Relatives For Justice
Internment killings — the truth must out
All and any resistance to the introduction of internment in 1971 was ruthlessly suppressed. The most notorious single incident was on the night internment was introduced, 9 August. In and around a small field in Belfast’s Ballymurphy estate, five unarmed people, including a mother searching for her children and a priest giving the last rites to a mortally wounded teenager, were shot dead by British soldiers.
Relatives For Justice is a Belfast based group working with relatives of people killed or injured during recent decades of British occupation in Ireland. Here the organisation’s Deputy Director ANDRÉE MURPHY talks to ELLA O’DYWER about the trauma experienced by the relatives of those killed at the onset of internment and about the vital importance of having their loss acknowledged by the British establishment.
Not a lot is widely known about the killings that took place in August 1971 at the onset of internment.
That’s right, it’s a kind of a hidden history that gets lost in the middle of all the other atrocities that took place in the early ‘70s – internment itself, the torture that took place at that time, and of course the Bloody Sunday massacre which was covered on TV so the world was made aware on what happened in Derry that day.
Coverage of the first three days of internment wasn’t like it was on Bloody Sunday but 26 people were killed, 11 of them from Ballymurphy in Belfast. The 11 were killed by the Parachute Regiment – the regiment that went on to kill more civilians on Bloody Sunday. If the Paras had been held to account back during internment, Bloody Sunday might not have happened. But they weren’t and they still haven’t been. They were allowed to act with impunity and with huge implications.
Can you tell me how those killings occurred?
Internment started in the early hours of 9 August 1971 and on the morning there was absolute bedlam with people trying to get out of their houses to get away.
Then to make matters worse at seven in the evening loyalists attacked nationalist homes trying to break in the back doors.
Pogroms against the nationalist population of Belfast had been ongoing since 1969 and loyalists saw the introduction of internment as another opportunity to put nationalists out of their homes. There were no peace walls then.
The nationalist community was in shock. People were trying to get the elderly and the children out of the houses and the Brits were trying to stop them. In the middle of all that madness, the British Army opened fire and it was aimed at the nationalists. It was clear who the nationalists were because they were the ones who were running to get away
The first person killed by the British soldiers was a priest — Fr Hugh Mullan, who was going to assist a wounded man. The second killed was Frank Quinn who was going to the assistance of the priest.
What was the British spin on events at the time?
They tried to portray the victims as ‘gunmen’ and the one woman who was killed on the night of 9 August they described as a ‘gunwoman’. The woman – Joan Connolly – was out on the streets searching for her teenage children when she heard a young man calling out in pain. She went to comfort him and was herself shot. She wasn’t found until the next morning and when she went missing her husband rang around to all the hospital A&E units enquiring if they had a woman committed with gunshot wounds. When he phoned the Royal Victoria hospital they said that, no they had no woman of that description in the A&E but they had one in the morgue.
During the first days of internment there was chaos. The community had organised for families, particularly children, to be moved to the South – to places like the Curragh and to families across the border. The woman who was shot was the mother of eight and her children were collected that evening and taken across the border so they couldn’t even attend their mother’s funeral. In fact they saw the funeral on the TV.
Eyewitness accounts of the time confirm that no firing came from the IRA. It all came from the British Army. They just shot at innocent people. In fact at one stage a Saracen armoured vehicle drove to where the victims were lying on the ground. It had a red cross on it as if coming to administer medical aid. They got out of the Saracen and went round shooting the wounded in the head. Danny Teggart was also shot by the British Army that night and Noel Philips whose body wasn’t found until the next day.
What kinds of structures are in place to expose the truth about what happened and to create awareness around the killings?
The families have come together with eyewitnesses from the time to reconstruct the facts about the internment killings. For the families there has been no real recognition of what they went through and that is a big obstacle to the healing process. Also, the British state has to be held to account. They have to be brought to acknowledge their responsibility for killing those innocent people. Until recently there wasn’t really any counseling support – they just coped from day-to-day. It was a case of surviving and now they’re realising the impact that the last 36 years of loss has had on them.
What got you involved in this issue?
When I moved to Belfast from Dublin in 1994 I got to realise what many families were going through in their attempt to bring the British Government to account. We’re now in a time of conflict resolution and at this point I feel it’s time a range of issues began to be resolved. These include Britain’s shoot-to-kill policy, collusion of state forces with unionist paramilitaries, plastic bullets and the like.
In effect what the families of the victims have been doing is recording a crucial part of Britain’s activities in Ireland and Relatives for Justice has an important role in helping these families to have an impact on the emergence of the new Ireland.
Another important aspect of the work going on is to enable the victims’ families to be able to explain to their own kids what happened to their murdered grandparents, uncles or whatever. There is a need for an accurate historical record and especially in the context of us emerging out of conflict. The British need to acknowledge the role they played and the hurt they caused. People want the truth and acknowledgement.
Are you proposing a kind of truth commission?
Yes, just that. It would probably be more of a private process than what happened in South Africa. The families want a proper investigation and acknowledgement.
There were 3,000 refugees taken to the 26 Counties to places like the Curragh and Gormanstown. Even that aspect of the tragedy of internment also needs to be recorded. Some of the children of those killed at the outset of internment returned to their homes expecting to see their deceased relatives alive. In many cases the children didn’t even know the full extent of what had happened.
In the next few months we hope to record the details of the refugees’ experience at the time. This period of history been largely veiled from the families and has been hidden from the public. It’s time for the truth to out.
An Phoblacht Magazine
AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:
- The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
- It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
- There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.