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EVERY documentary about the North of Ireland has to begin with a history lesson. Over the years successive British governments have tried and, more times than not, succeeded in distorting the real history of their bloody role in this part of these islands.
In Callum Macrae's new documentary The Ballymurphy Precedent — now on general release in cinemas, with a shorter version, Massacre at Ballymurphy screened on Channel 4 at the weekend — the whole truth is laid bare.
That truth is that the North of Ireland is a colony, with an inbuilt Protestant majority at its birth in 1922 until the power-sharing executive was set up by the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
In 1969, the civil rights movement in the North of Ireland demanded change by peaceful methods. The Catholics wanted equality in the polling booth, in jobs and in housing. In response the RUC, the Protestant police force, buckled under the force of the demonstrations and the Labour government sent in the British army.
In Ballymurphy, they were welcomed by local people who believed they were there to bring “law and order,” but their role was to bring back Protestant rule and a policy of internment which led to 11 killings on the Ballymurphy estate over three days in August 1971. This included a priest and a mother of eight.
In the aftermath, the 11 were accused of being members of the IRA, even though no evidence was ever produced. Unlike Bloody Sunday which happened six months later there has been no official inquiry into the Ballymurphy massacre.
Macrae’s film took four years to make. It includes the personal testimonies of the families, new evidence including eyewitness accounts and a bigger debate about the role of the British army. It is a testament to superb investigative film-making.
The images of the women on the estate fighting the British army with their fists, as they broke the curfew to get food for their children, is powerful and prescient. Macrae shows how the army struggled to deal with the women’s actions and one of those women, Joan Connolly, mother of eight later became a victim of what the families believed were targeted killings.
The inquest into the Ballymurphy deaths began today and its remit will be very limited. It may answer the question of how the victims died but not the wider question of political responsibility.
But the families of the Ballymurphy 11 are hoping that it will finally tell the true story of three days in August 1971 and give them peace and justice.
Massacre at Ballymurphy is available on All 4, channel4.com/programmes/massacre-at-ballymurphy and details of cinema screenings of The Ballymurphy Precedent are at theballymurphyprecedent.com
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