Martin Galvin (MG) interviews John Teggart (JT) via telephone from Belfast about the Ballymurphy Massacre families’ search for justice. (begins time stamp ~ 20:46)
MG: With us on the line we have John Teggart of the, well I’ll call it the Ballymurphy Massacre Group. John, welcome to Radio Free Éireann. I believe this is your first time on the programme.
JT: It is, Martin. Thanks for the invite.
MG: Alright John, we want to cover – we’ve talked and covered the story of Bloody Sunday. We’ve been fortunate to have people like Kate Nash and Eamonn McCann and others who brought us up-to-date on what happened. Now the Paratroop Regiment was involved in Bloody Sunday in January of 1972. But a few months earlier than that Paratroops were stationed in Ballymurphy, one of the – well I’ll call it a Nationalist/Republican heartland off the Falls Road in Belfast, they were stationed there at the time of internment in August 9th of 1971 and over a period of a few days they conducted themselves in such a way as to – the phrase has been coined the ‘Ballymurphy Massacre‘. I know you could talk about it for a long time but just give us a nutshell – what happened during those few days in your home area of Ballymurphy?
JT: Well in August, 1971 – the 9th of August, 1971 that was the start of internment without trial. The internment sweep happened at 3:40AM that morning and the massacre – we need to decouple from the massacre – the massacre didn’t happen on the internment sweep; the internment sweep was over sixteen hours earlier.
What happened was the British Paratroopers, the same soldiers on the ground on Bloody Sunday, started firing at civilians in their own area and resulted in eleven people being murdered over three days including my father, Danny Teggart, who was shot fourteen times. A Catholic priest – and you have to remember when we talk about Bloody Sunday you’ll remember the iconic figure of the priest with the white hankie – well the priest with the white hankie happened in Ballymurphy first but the hand that he was holding it with he was shot through that arm and he subsequently died from them injuries.
MG: That was Father Mullan holding up a white handkerchief – you’re talking about Bishop Edward Daly, who recently passed away, holding up a white handkerchief in Doire as they carried the body of one of the people who was shot down in Doire on Bloody Sunday – they didn’t open fire. But one of the things we’ve talked about is how Father Hugh Mullan in Ballymurphy was doing the same thing – holding up a white handkerchief as a gesture of truce, don’t shoot, neutrality – and was shot down. Just tell us, we can’t go through everybody – but just – it would take too much time, but just tell us – you said your father was shot a number of times. What was he doing when he was shot? How many times was shot during the Ballymurphy Massacre?
JT: He was shot fourteen times. My father and his brother, both residents of the area, were there for the first shots which occurred. Father Mullan was only fifty yards from the first man who was shot and he could see what was going on that’s why he left his home – at fifty yards away. For the initial shots my father got separated from his brother where he could have been safe was the barrack – two hundred and fifty yards down the street. In the barrack there was eighty-five paratroopers and by the time he got there he had time to relax – talk to people – and then all of a sudden the paratroopers from the barrack, where there were eighty-five paratroopers, started firing indiscriminately into the crowd. My father had stopped momentarily because he heard a young lad getting shot behind him – and subsequently he was shot in the leg. My father lay out in the open on a bright Summer night fifty yards away from the barrack where he was shot repeatedly as he lay defenceless on the ground with a total fourteen shots passed through his body. They were high velocity shots so there was no bullets in the body because they were so close to him.
MG: Alright, John. There were eleven people killed. It happens over a three day period. I had actually – I’ve written letters, said that they were shot during internment. You’ve corrected that mis-impression that I had – this was decoupled – it was hours later and over a period of days after the internment sweeps were over. The British government always says that they believe in law and order, that anybody who, if they wear a Crown uniform, they’ll meet justice, that they will be subject to the legal process. What legal process was these troopers who shot your father fourteen times, who killed a Catholic priest, who killed eleven people in those three days – what happened to them in terms of the legal system?
JT: Well in terms of the legal system you heard of the Widgery trial at Bloody Sunday well we had something similar which was the Widgery Inquest, if you could call it that – inquest – or the inquest my mother and all the families, for all eleven families (inaudible) inquest was sitting where the paratroopers gave their names in a brown envelope and handed it over. There was none, families of civilians weren’t called to give eyewitness if only just to say that they identified the bodies in the morgue. There was no police investigation – even to today – so the police weren’t given evidence at all – so that, as far as the legal system went in 1972: No witnesses called, the Army was allowed to give their version without being challenged or put in the dock for to be questioned either by the (inaudible) or the police of the day.
MG: Alright. what you’re talking about, the Widgery Report: Immediately after or a few months after Bloody Sunday a tribunal was established – the Widgery Report – British troops concocted, got together cover stories they just – these were routinely rubber-stamped by a special British judge, Lord Widgery. I remember at one time going to Ireland and you know if you told a nonsensical story, you’d make up something or you know you’d give an excuse they’d say: ‘Widgery wouldn’t believe that’ you know or you’re going to ‘Widgery that one’ – it just became a synonym for anything that was ridiculous, an outrageous lie, a cover-up. He was the one who said that everybody at Bloody Sunday had weapons or bombs or nail bombs or something like that and you’re saying essentially that that’s what happened – this was just a legal white-wash for the British paratroopers who were involved with the Ballymurphy Massacre and may have been the reason why they thought they could get away with it so easy on Bloody Sunday. Would that be fair to say?
JT: That’d be a hundred percent. That’s exactly the way it was. It was a whitewash that the soldiers were allowed to shoot down civilians with impunity which gave them the opening for on Bloody Sunday. But the first was Ballymurphy was that it wasn’t a moment of madness. This happened over three days. It didn’t happen in twenty minutes. These guys were being attacked on the local community and it didn’t ease off in them three days. You have eighty-five paratroopers in the Army barrack in Ballymurphy on the 9th. By the time it come to the 11th there was six hundred paratroopers coming into Ballymurphy. There was 1 Para, 2 Para, 3 Para – never happened before and not since even and they came into Ballymurphy and if you ever see the chronology map that we have you can see that as they moved through the streets they murdered and shot and brutalised people from street to street.
MG: Alright. The Paratroop Regiments goes into Ballymurphy, they shoot down eleven people. There’s some kind of legal whitewash – everybody’s accused of having a gun or something like that although no British troopers were injured. You have been trying for an independent inquiry, you and the other Ballymurphy families, have been trying for an independent inquiry to get some kind of justice, to have a real investigation, to have your first chance, really, for civilians, as you say, to speak about what they saw and heard what really happened. And you’ve been trying to have inquests as part of the legacy inquests that we’ve talked about to get to the point where you can have an independent inquiry. It’s been more than forty-five years. Why is it that the British government does not allow or hasn’t allowed yet these inquests, which have been promised to you, so that you could take those steps, air the issues and maybe get another step towards an independent inquiry?
JT: We were granted the inquest in about 2010. We haven’t got an Attorney General in The North for over thirty years. So in 2011 when that post was filled again we were granted an inquest into the deaths of eleven civilians. From then on we would have had blockage after blockage trying to get disclosure off the British government and that had went on for the past forty-five years. It’s come to a stage where the Lord Chief Justice, who just come in the post last October, 2015, had said that the system wasn’t adequate and he had brought things around where he had refused until all the deaths were included in the legacy inquest, ninety-five in total, and he came to the conclusion that he needs to set to – to do his job – he needs to set up an independent unit in the Coroner’s Court for the work (inaudible) and he had said that he would be confident that he could do all this work, all the fifty-six inquests into ninety-five deaths, within five years but for that he needed proper funding. Proper funding was part of the Stormont House Agreement where the legacy inquest would be made Article 2 compliant. They weren’t and from then the MoD (Minister of Defence) and the British government was able to choke the system of resources which meant from September 2014 til now we have been in the courts since.
MG: Alright now John, you and the other families – James Brokenshire, he’s the one who took over for Theresa Villiers. I used to call her Lady Macbeth Villiers – just she reminds someone playing Lady Macbeth – but Lady Macbeth is a famous Shakespeare character who used to wander the halls at night and she’d rub her hands trying to do away the bloodstains and it seems – Theresa Villiers would do that with speeches about ‘pernicious counter-narratives‘ in The North of Ireland that the British can do no wrong. But she’s been replaced. You have James Brokenshire. He’s been telling members of Congress and people in Washington that everything is going forward, the British government is going to look after victims and they have an open ear and they want to see everything settled. You and the other Ballymurphy families met with James Brokenshire recently. Could you tell us what happened during that meeting?
JT: Well we had thought the way, like you said, that he had told other people that he wanted to work with the legacy of the past and he spoke in Washington and he spoke in Oxford and all these things were coming out of it. But he wasn’t asked the proper questions. He wasn’t asked: Is he going to deal with Ballymurphy and the legacy inquests? Is he going to deal with the outstanding case of Pat Finucane’s family and other families – he wasn’t asked these questions and he would have been put on the spot where he wouldn’t answer them – he had a (inaudible) like he did with ourselves. So we had met him. We thought it couldn’t get any worse than Mrs. Villiers and we sat down in front of him. The families told their story how their loved ones died, the aftermath of how it affected the family and everything else – and I’m sure many people listening that have met the families know what I’m talking about – and then we’ll get down to business. Let him speak. First he passed on condolences to the Murphy Family who, Mrs. Murphy, died on the same day as her husband forty-five years ago both of them buried together and also I had to remind him that there was also another death in recent weeks – that of Joseph Corr.
The first question was about the inquests: Is he going to fund them and when is the funding going to happen? He had said that he needs to get directions from the Executive and he hadn’t seen the support from the Executive for the funding of these inquests. I had reminded him that there was six parties from the Executive in the room supporting our campaign and supporting what that meeting was about – was funding for the legacy inquests – and he went dumb. He went dumb again when he was reminded that under that the Stormont House Agreement he had the commitment to make the legacy inquests Article 2 compliant and he was reminded that under European law that he had to (inaudible) the case, investigating it into the deaths by the British state.
MG: Alright, and you ended up walking out of that agreement because he made it clear that they wouldn’t release any funding without saying he needed agreement from Arlene Foster and – which just seems to be a sham, an excuse. I actually happen to see, somebody I wouldn’t normally agree with, Newton Emerson, had a piece up on The Detail, he does these animated pieces and he says you know – the British have this thing : ‘Oh! Everything must be agreed before anything goes forward’ and that seems to really to be an excuse to do nothing – and essentially I think that’s what he told you during that meeting which led you and the other families to walk out.
JT: Yeah, he put it back to the Executive. But before we had walked out we reminded him about his responsibilities from the British state he had said, after we had said that he said: I have to respect the views of other parties within the Executive and obviously he’s only talking about one party…
MG: …Look John, I’ve just made the point before and I’ll make it again: When it comes to putting Tony Taylor in jail, who was brought in and interned-by-licence, James Brokenshire nor Theresa Villiers didn’t need anybody’s agreement. They didn’t ask Martin McGuinness, who is opposed to that, what he thought. They just did it. I think it’s fairly clear: If it suited the British government to have these inquests, if they thought that these inquests would support the justification of what the British paratroopers did in the Ballymurphy Massacre you would have had these inquests forty-five years ago and what this is is the British government simply holding back money, holding back documents and just refusing to give justice to the Irish for murder – they were doing it forty-five years ago and they’re doing it to the Ballymurphy Massacre families today. Would that be a fair statement?
JT: That would be a hundred percent. And I had actually said to Brokenshire that he can’t make decisions. Theresa Villiers, his predecessor, could make decisions overnight. Other Secretaries of State could make new laws overnight and he could make a decision and make a decision in a speedy fashion. But before we walked out he had said about the ‘respect other parties’ and what we had said to him was: You have to respect the views of the eleven innocent civilian families who were murdered. You have to respect the views of the Lord Chief Justice, the most highest man in the legal system. You have to respect the Justice Minister and all the other people who support. You have to respect the Irish government, the Catholic Church, people in Washington who support the campaign – you have to respect that. And what we had said to him before we walked out was: What you have just said, you have to respect other people in the Executive – what you have just done and said and admitted to is you have personally give a veto to Arlene Foster and the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) over all the victims of the past. That the DUP have a veto over all that there – until they agree there’s no agreement and that’s why he had said….(crosstalk) (inaudible)
MG: Alright John, we’re just going – we’re going to have to leave it there. We have one more guest to do on the programme. I want to thank you for being with us and we’re hoping to have you back again in future on this issue until the Ballymurphy Massacre families get some justice. Alright, thank you, John Teggart. (ends time stamp ~ 39:13)