The Government is “truly sorry” for the events in Ballymurphy 50 years ago, in which 10 innocent people were killed, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, has said.
On Tuesday, coroner Mrs Justice Keegan found that those who died in Belfast in August 1971 were “entirely innocent”.
She found that nine of the 10 had been killed by soldiers, and that the use of lethal force was not justified.
In a statement to the House of Commons on Thursday, Mr Lewis began by acknowledging the “terrible hurt” which had been caused to the families and paying tribute to them for their patience during their campaign for justice.
He said: “The Prime Minister is writing personally to the families and expressed his deep regret to the First and Deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland yesterday, and has apologised unreservedly on behalf of the state.
“The findings of the coroner are clear, those who died were entirely innocent of wrongdoing. The events at Ballymurphy should never have happened.
“The families of those who were killed should never have had to experience the grief and trauma of that loss.
“They should have not had to wait almost five decades for judgment this week, nor been compelled to relive that terrible time in August 1971 again and again in their long and distressing quest for the truth.”
He added: “There is no doubt that what happened on those awful few days in Ballymurphy also fuelled further violence and escalation, particularly in the early years of the Troubles.
“The Government profoundly regrets and is truly sorry for these events and how investigations after these terrible events were handled, and for the additional pain that the families have had to endure in their fight to clear the names of their loved ones.”
On Wednesday, families of those killed by soldiers in Ballymurphy rejected a “third party apology” from the UK Prime Minister.
Mr Lewis said “thousands of murders remain unresolved” in Northern Ireland, with many families yearning for answers.
He told MPs: “With each passing year the integrity of evidence and the prospect of prosecution do diminish, and the Government is not shrinking away from those challenges.
“We are determined to address them in a way that reflects the time that has passed, the complexity of Northern Ireland’s troubled history and the reality of compromises that have already been made.
“But above all we’re determined to address it in a way that enables victims and survivors to get to the truth which they deserve.
“We must never ignore or dismiss the past, learning what we can we must find a way to move beyond it – and the coroner’s findings this week are part of that very often painful process.
“This Government wants to deliver a way forward in addressing the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland, one that will allow all individuals of families who want information to seek and receive answers about what happened during the Troubles with far less delay and distress.
“We want a path forward which will also pave the way for wider societal reconciliation for all communities, allowing all the people of Northern Ireland to focus on building a shared, stable, peaceful and prosperous future.”
The families of Ballymurphy victims expressed anger that the apology was not delivered by the Prime Minister.
Briege Voyle, whose mother was killed, said: “Why could Boris not do it, why could he not? It won’t bring my mummy back but at least you would have felt that you were being respected.”
John Teggart, whose father was shot dead by a soldier, said: “Brandon Lewis is the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, we welcome his statement today as he is supposed to represent all in the north, but the right thing to do would be for it to come from the head of state, Boris Johnson.
“We’ll not be rushing him, just whenever he is ready he can come and speak to the families.”