DUBLIN – The family of a 12-year-old Catholic girl fatally shot in the back by a British Army soldier 35 years ago received a face-to-face apology Monday from Britain’s senior government official in Northern Ireland.
The confidential meeting between Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson and relatives of the victim, Majella O’Hare, came seven months after a review of police evidence found nothing to sustain the British Army’s defense of the shooting.
The relatives – including the victim’s 88-year-old mother Mary – said Paterson personally apologized, particularly for the extremely slow acknowledgment of the wrong committed, and also presented an official apology letter signed by Defence Secretary Liam Fox.
“It has been a long time coming. It still does not avoid the fact that Majella is dead as a result of their actions,” her brother Michael said outside Paterson’s Hillsborough Castle residence near Belfast.
He said the family – which received a 1,500-pound ($2,400) payment from the British government in 1976 as compensation for the killing – did not plan any legal action.
This is only the second time that Britain has said it was sorry for a killing committed by its forces in Northern Ireland. Last year Britain apologized following the publication of an official report that rejected the army’s defense for its killing of 13 Catholic demonstrators on Bloody Sunday in 1972.
Majella was shot in the back on Aug. 14, 1976, as she was walking with other schoolgirls to a Catholic Church to give their confessions in the village of Whitecross in South Armagh, a borderland powerbase for the IRA. Her father, who died in 1992, witnessed the shooting and watched her die in an army helicopter as she was being evacuated to hospital.