LONDON: The UK government apologised on Wednesday after 10 civilians were killed during violence in Northern Ireland nearly 50 years ago, Downing Street said.
The apology came a day after a coroner ruled that British soldiers used “clearly disproportionate” force against protesters in Ballymurphy, west Belfast, in 1971.
Victims included a priest and a mother of eight children.
Families of the dead, whom the coroner said were all declared “entirely innocent of any wrongdoing”, have accused successive governments in London of a cover-up.
Downing Street said UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke to Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster and her deputy in the power-sharing assembly in Belfast, Michelle O’Neill.
“He said the conclusions of the Ballymurphy inquest… were deeply sad and that the events of August 1971 were tragic,” a statement read.
“The Prime Minister apologised unreservedly on behalf of the UK government for the events that took place in Ballymurphy and the huge anguish that the lengthy pursuit of truth has caused the families of those killed.”
Johnson’s government has previously proposed legislation to prevent British troops who served in Northern Ireland being prosecuted, causing controversy in nationalist communities.
Some 3,500 people were killed on all sides in the three-decade conflict over the British rule of Northern Ireland, which ended in 1998 when a peace deal was struck.
Last week, two former paratroopers were cleared of killing a member of the Irish Republican Army paramilitaries, after evidence from the time was ruled inadmissible in court.
Prosecutions from the era of “The Troubles” remain controversial, with Northern Ireland still split along sectarian lines. British troops were initially sent in to help keep the peace, after clashes between majority pro-UK Protestant communities, and nationalist Catholics in favour of union with Ireland.
But they became caught up in some of the bloodiest episodes of the conflict.
Former prime minister Tony Blair, who helped to broker the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, on Wednesday called for a South Africa-style truth and reconciliation commission to resolve long-standing differences, instead of prosecutions.
Johnson’s office said the government was determined to “deliver a way forward in Northern Ireland that focuses on reconciliation, delivers for victims of The Troubles and ends the cycle of reinvestigations”.