RELATIVES of victims of the conflict in the north of Ireland held protests outside Downing Street and the Ministry of Defence in London just before Christmas as part of a new campaign to bring pressure on the Irish and British governments to implement agreements made in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and the 2006 St Andrews talks.
The action was organised by Set the Truth Free, a new coalition of groups and individuals calling for a full independent inquiry into all deaths of the Troubles where the facts are not known or are contested. The relatives also met with MPs at the House of Commons.
The relatives brought shoes, photos and other mementos of those who died as part of a mobile exhibition, [In Their Footsteps]. Similar events have taken place Belfast, Derry and Dublin.
A coalition of organisations, including the Pat Finucane Centre, Bloody Sunday Trust, the Ballymurphy Massacre families and many others have joined the campaign, but no banners or flags are permitted at their events so that families and individuals don’t have to identify with any particular group or campaign.
The group is led by John Teggart, who speaks for the families of 11 people shot dead by British paratroopers in Ballymurphy, West Belfast, shortly before Bloody Sunday. His father, Danny, was among those who died.
Speaking to the New Worker, Teggart compared the families’ experience to the victims of the Hillsborough tragedy: “The way they treated the Hillsborough Fans is almost identical to the way we were treated, the lies we were told as if we were in some way to blame.”
Paul O’Connor of the Pat Finucane Centre said that Christmas brought back memories for the families of all victims, whether they died at the hands of the IRA, loyalist paramilitaries or British forces.
He also condemned the closure of the Historical Enquiries Team in December, after a £50 million cut to the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s budget.
Seventeen years after the conflict ended the British government has failed to carry out many of its commitments, the most controversial being that of dealing with the past and the victims on all sides.
Major issues remain unresolved, such as the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane, the Ballymurphy British Army shootings, and the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings, in which 33 civilians were killed – the deadliest incident in the entire conflict.
There are also dozens of murders and bombings in northern and southern Ireland in which Loyalist paramilitaries were assisted by the undercover British Military Reaction Force.
In 2003 the Irish Government’s Barron Report pointed to undercover outfits such as the Glenanne Gang, made up of loyalists and said to include 25 British soldiers and police officers, as responsible for the Miami Showband Massacre and the Kingsmill Massacre, while the British are also believed to have helped those behind the McGurk's Bar bombing in Belfast.
While there were victims on all sides in the conflict, and hundreds of relatives are still seeking closure, the most glaring unresolved issue is that of British collusion with Loyalist terrorists and shootings by the British Army.
And of course we should not forget that it is British colonialism and imperialism which created the conflict in the first place, after fostering hundreds of years of division and bloodshed in Ireland.