IN the New Lodge last weekend we were reminded of the service to their community, wider society and to peace that victims and survivors of state violence have played.
The award-winning documentary maker Seán Murray beamed a new documentary on to one of the New Lodge tower blocks which told in intimate and graphic detail how each of six men were killed in that area on that night 50 years ago. It was a physical reclaiming of one of the sites from which the British Army waged war on the New Lodge.
The undercover army killings of Jim McCann and Jim Sloan, first claimed by the Ministry of Defence Press Office then denied by them and blamed on “loyalists”. Tony Campbell, shot 17 times in the abdomen, severing his spine as he was mortally wounded. The targeting of John Loughran and Brendan Maguire as they tried desperately to save Tony Campbell’s life. The single marksman’s execution shot to the head of Ambrose Hardy as if shooting for fun. A series of unspeakable murders without investigation or accountability for fifty years. All details were beamed on to the tower block to the silence of the hundreds gathered in solemn witness.
In 1973 the British Army acted in the full and certain belief that they would get away with murder. They believed they could kill without sanction and terrify an entire community into submission. And why wouldn’t they – they had been to Ballymurphy in August 1971, Derry 1972 and Springhill 1972. 30 Irish citizens killed in cold blood – women, children and priests, without as much as a caution. The British Army would kill and kill again, trying to perpetuate their coercion and control. They of course extended and expanded the purview of this policy when they used the non-state groupings in loyalism.
But they did not know the families they bereaved. They did not know the communities they tried to subjugate. They did not know that New Lodge, North Belfast, Ireland, never forgets and never gives up.
When we create the spaces for honourable memory they are filled with love, hope and courage. Families, despite their experiences, will bring unsurpassable virtue as they share their testimony and stand firm. Throughout the five decades since these killings the bereaved have kept hope and expectation of better alive. Despite their past, and their present of impunity, lies and cover-up, they knew that the testimony they laid down would serve a better future.
Right now the British Government answer to that virtue is the writing of the Legacy Bill and the tearing up of the European Convention on Human Rights.
On the 30th anniversary of the New Lodge 6 killings, the North Belfast News wrote to the British Government asking for a comment to the community inquiry, established by the relatives to record the testimony of their community. The reporter was told to F*** off. Mike Ritchie has described the Legacy Bill as the British Government’s latest statement to F*** off.
The rest of us, with any moral compass, have borne witness. But we also have an obligation. We cannot be bystanders or tourists to the past. We must stand with these families who have contributed and fulfil their expectation for better. In February 1973 and in February 2023 the message is still the same. These families will never forget and never give up. Neither can we.