It’s a mir­a­cle more lives weren’t lost, shoot­ing probe told

Belfast Telegraph - - NEWS - BY EA­MON SWEENEY

A CATHOLIC priest has told the in­quest of a man shot and fa­tally wounded by the Army at a dance in north Belfast 45 years ago it was a “mir­a­cle” that only one per­son was killed.

Fa­ther Au­gus­tine Houri­gan was giv­ing ev­i­dence on the sec­ond day of the in­quest into the death of 25-year-old Joseph Parker in Ar­doyne in De­cem­ber 1971.

The vic­tim was at a disco at Toby’s Hall with his sis­ter Teresa Watt and his un­cle Fran­cis Cos­grove when a pa­trol from the Lan­cashire Reg­i­ment ar­rived.

A row broke out and the Army opened fire in the packed hall. Af­ter the trouble stopped it be­came clear that ‘Joe-Joe’ Parker, as he was known, had been shot. He died later from his in­juries at the Mater Hos­pi­tal.

Fr Houri­gan, a mem­ber of the Pas­sion­ist Order, was a priest at Holy Cross church in Ar­doyne at the time.

In court he said that he had not at­tended func­tions at Toby’s Hall be­fore, but was per­suaded to go by some lo­cal peo­ple.

“The lo­cal com­mu­nity tended to stay away from the city cen­tre af­ter the in­tro­duc­tion of in­tern­ment. There were around 500 peo­ple in the hall at the time when a Bri­tish Army pa­trol came in with their faces black­ened,” he said.

Fr Houri­gan said he chal­lenged the of­fi­cer in charge of the pa­trol, whom he de­scribed as a “very tall man”, and told him

Killed: Joseph Parker

their pres­ence was likely to cause trouble. He said that he ad­vised them but the soldier in charge ig­nored him, said he wanted to look around and pushed past him. And, at this point the lead­ing soldier fell, or was tripped.

“An­other soldier was in a state of ex­cite­ment and panic and was fright­ened when the crowd be­gan shout­ing ‘Out, out, out’,” the priest said.

“A shot was fired. I don’t know whether it was the first soldier or the sec­ond one. There was quite a lot of shots fired.

“It was a mir­a­cle only one per­son was killed. I was out­side by then. There was a big surge for the door.”

When ques­tioned by coun­sel for the Min­istry of De­fence, Peter Coll QC, Fr Houri­gan de­scribed how a young teenage girl in a dis­tressed state grabbed his hand and they both re­moved a nail that was bar­ring an exit door. He de­scribed how, out­side, an­other ag­i­tated soldier was alone against a wall on But­ler Street ad­ja­cent to the hall. This soldier, said the priest, was warn­ing the crowd spilling out of Toby’s Hall to “get back”. How­ever, Fr Houri­gan re­called that an older woman on the street said to the soldier, “Son, the closer we are to you, the safer you are”.

He told Mr Coll he had left and that point and had not seen the shots be­ing fired be­cause he was in the street. He had, how­ever, heard them.

Re­ply­ing to ques­tions from Fiona Do­herty, coun­sel for the Parker fam­ily, Fr Houri­gan said that he, two other priests and a del­e­ga­tion of around 30 lo­cal peo­ple were ad­mit­ted to Black Street Army bar­racks the next day and spoke with three se­nior of­fi­cers about the in­ci­dent.

But, he said, de­spite an apol­ogy for the death of Joe-Joe and an apol­ogy over the han­dling of the en­tire in­ci­dent, as far as he was aware a promised in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the mat­ter never ma­te­ri­alised.

“If you had been there and saw what hap­pened as I de­scribed it, for just one per­son in the hall to be killed was most un­usual. It was chaos,” said Fr Houri­gan.

Phyllis Do­herty, an­other wit­ness who gave ev­i­dence yes­ter­day, told the court she ini­tially be­lieved the shots be­ing fired were rub­ber bul­lets.

She also said that she and her friend Pa­tri­cia Hale, who was wounded in the in­ci­dent, took cover when they re­alised that live rounds were be­ing fired.

The in­quest con­tin­ues.

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