Northern Ireland: new inquiry

Michael Keaney michael.keaney at
Tue Nov 26 06:18:25 MST 2002

Inquiry to examine 1973 killings of six Catholics in Belfast
By David McKittrick Ireland Correspondent
The Independent, 23 November 2002

The human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce is among the legal figures taking part
this weekend in an unofficial inquiry into six highly controversial killings
in Belfast almost three decades ago.

The inquiry is investigating the deaths of six men and youths who were
killed, apparently by a combination of loyalist gunmen and British troops,
in February 1973.

An unusual feature of the case is that, although three of the six were
teenage members of the IRA, the families of all those killed received
government compensation.

Neither the army nor police are co-operating with the inquiry, which began
yesterday and continues today. Among those taking part are Colin Harvey,
professor of law at Leeds University and Don Mullan, author of a book on
Bloody Sunday which was influential in the setting up of the Saville

The inquiry is the latest in a series of initiatives launched in many parts
of Ireland, north and south, by relatives of those killed in the Troubles.
They are campaigning for more information about the deaths, in particular
those caused by the security forces. Many of those involved complain that
the authorities carried out inadequate investigations and remain reluctant
to furnish relevant information.

In this case, campaigners complain that police took statements from a
handful of witnesses and allege that the possibility of military wrongdoing
was not followed up. Angela Ritchie, a solicitor, said yesterday that police
had produced no documentation or clarification of any sort, and that no
material had been disclosed by the Army.

During the 1970s the Catholic New Lodge district of Belfast was regarded as
one of the most dangerous places in Northern Ireland, with probably the most
concentrated death toll of any area. There were dozens of casualties from
republican clashes with soldiers and frequent attacks on Catholics by
loyalist gunmen from the nearby Shankill and Woodvale districts.

Witnesses told the inquiry yesterday that soldiers who were nearby had made
no attempt to apprehend a car carrying gunmen who fired the shots, which
started the sequence of six deaths, on the night of 3 February.

The gunmen opened fire on a Catholic bar, killing two youths who were
outside. Although both were IRA members, they are said to have been unarmed.
At an inquest, government counsel described them as innocent victims.

In the chaos which followed, four more people were killed. The Army claimed
that about 12 gunmen fired at troops, who returned fire with almost 300
shots. Troops claimed they had hit six gunmen.

Locals contradicted the military version of events, saying that several of
those killed were shot by troops after going to the aid of a wounded man.

One was reportedly waving a white sheet when he was hit. Six years later,
his brother was shot dead in the New Lodge by loyalist gunmen.

In later legal proceedings, compensation was paid to the families of not
just the three civilians killed but also the three members of the IRA, the
money coming in at least four cases from the Ministry of Defence. According
to Willie Loughran, who was related to one of those killed, the shootings
were "the New Lodge's Bloody Sunday".

Mr Loughran, who helped organise the inquiry, said: "Thirty years on we are
still trying to discover why our loved ones were killed. We know how they
were killed, but we have never been told why they were murdered.

"This inquiry is the first opportunity we have had of establishing why six
unarmed men were shot dead. Three of the people killed were members of the
IRA, but that is not why they were shot. They were killed because they were
Catholics living in the New Lodge."

The inquiry is supported by the local Catholic church authorities. The
Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr Patrick Walsh, said: "The events have never
been fully investigated.

"Almost 30 years on, this inquiry is to be welcomed. Like the families of
the more than 3,000 people who suffered violent deaths, these families need
to have their loss acknowledged. Finding the truth is an important part of
this process."

Ms Peirce is best known for her work on the Guildford Four case and a film
was made documenting her success. In the Name of the Father featured Emma
Thompson as the lawyer, for which she won an Academy Award.

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