Leaders in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic have welcomed a finding that 10 people killed in shootings in west Belfast in 1971 were “entirely innocent”.
The British Army was found responsible for nine of the deaths of 10 people in Ballymurphy in August 1971, including a mother-of-eight and a Catholic priest, following fresh inquests.
Presiding Coroner Mrs Justice Keegan acknowledged it was a chaotic time but ruled that the use of force by soldiers had been “disproportionate” in the deaths the Army was found to have been responsible for.
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said it had been a “powerful day” for the families of the victims who lost their lives at Ballymurphy.
“It has laid bare for all to see that the British forces murdered their family members, their innocent family members,” she said.
“They have always known that and now the whole world sees that is the case.”
First Minister Arlene Foster said it had been a “long road” for the families.
“50 years later, the court has considered the evidence and the findings should be accepted. I commend the families for their tenacity,” she tweeted.
“Lots of lessons to be learned. Grief is grief. Justice must be blind.
“Too many empty chairs across NI and unanswered questions.”
Irish premier Micheal Martin said he was never in any doubt that the victims of the Ballymurphy massacre were innocent.
He told the Dail: “It’s been a very harrowing experience for many, many relatives.
“There have been many false dawns in terms of trying to get closure or trying to get justice in relation to this.”
Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said the findings have “cast a tremendous new light on one of the darkest pages of the history of the conflict”.
He said the findings will come as an “immense relief and vindication for the families who have maintained for decades that their loved ones were innocent and their killings unjustified”.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said he “deeply regrets” what the Ballymurphy families have had to go through.
He acknowledged the “terrible hurt” that has been caused to them and paid tribute to their “great patience” during their “determined” campaign.
“They should not have had to wait this long for details about the events that unfolded between August 9-11 1971,” he said.
“The Government will carefully consider the extensive findings set out by the coroner, but it is clear that those who died were entirely innocent of wrongdoing,” he added.
He also said it was clear that the current system for dealing with the legacy of the Troubles is not working for anyone and the Government wants to deliver a “way forward that will provide information about what happened during the Troubles in a way that helps families get the answers they want and lays the foundation for greater reconciliation and a shared future for all communities”.
Labour shadow secretary of state Louise Haigh described the inquest findings as “clear and irrefutable”.
“Those who lost their lives were innocent and posing no threat.
“Their deaths were without justification.
“The fundamental right to life violated,” she said.
“That families have had to fight for so long for the truth is a profound failure of justice.
“One which must be learnt from.
“For these families, the standard to which we hold ourselves as a nation of laws has fallen far short.”
Alliance leader Naomi Long urged the UK Government to issue an apology for the actions of the Army in Ballymurphy in August 1971.
“The UK Government now needs to step up and formally apologise for the actions of the Army on the day in question,” she said.
“We saw how much a similar apology in relation to Bloody Sunday meant to the families there, and I encourage the Government to acknowledge the courage of the Ballymurphy families with a similar statement.”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood paid tribute to the “unshakeable dignity” of the Ballymurphy families.
“They have stood against attempts to blacken the names of their loved ones, attempts to deny the truth and rewrite the past,” he said.
“Today they can stand proudly in the knowledge that their friends and family were entirely innocent of wrongdoing and the whole world knows it.”
Green Party leader Clare Bailey described as “shameful” the 50-year wait for the bereaved families.
“I only hope that today comes as some degree of comfort after decades of distress and compounded grief,” she said.
“I pay tribute to the fortitude of the Ballymurphy families and the grace and dignity that they have shown during this difficult and protracted Inquest process.”
The Presbyterian Moderator, the Reverend Dr David Bruce, said the findings for the families are a “long-awaited public declaration of the innocence of their loved ones”.
“As they take in the news that they have waited 50 years to hear, it reminds us once more of the tragic and shattering past that Northern Ireland has witnessed, and the legacy of those times half a century on,” he said.
“For too many people across Northern Ireland, and indeed further afield, today would have brought back memories of loved ones whose lives were also cut short during what we casually call The Troubles.
“At this particular time they, along with the Ballymurphy families, are in our thoughts and prayers.”