Thirty-eight years after the tragedy known as “Bloody Sunday” in Londonderry, a second official inquiry contains one crucial word: “innocent.” The thirteen men who died that day (another died of his wounds four months later) posed “no threat” and were engaged in no activity that would justify their shooting
Prime Minister David Cameron said that the inquiry found soldiers went into the Bogside, where a peaceful civil rights march was being held, as a result of an order from Parachute Regiment Colonel Derek Wilford. The order, said Cameron, “should not have been given” and was contrary to the orders that Wilford had received from Brigadier Pat MacLellan, the soldier in charge of the Army’s operation that day.
Cameron said, “What happened should never, ever have happened – some members of our armed forces acted wrongly. On behalf of our government and our country I am deeply sorry.”
In a stirring passage, Cameron added, “You do not defend the British army by defending the indefensible. We do not honor all those who have served with distinction in keeping the peace and upholding the rule of law in Northern Ireland by hiding from the truth.”
That should be the motto of any person or group seeking justice.
The families who lost loved ones on January 30, 1972, were allowed to see an advance copy of the report. This morning, they were taken first into the Guild Hall to see the final product and signalled their approval by sticking their thumbs through the wire window grate, outside the city’s ancient walls.When I spoke to family members during a May 2010 visit, they said they didn’t need the report to tell them what really happened. Nevertheless, the conclusion of “innocent” is being embraced as vindication of their long struggle for truth.
The report also said that Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was probably armed with a submachine gun on the day (he was reputedly an active member of the Irish Republican Army). While it was possible he fired his weapon, the report said McGuinness did not engage in any activity which justified the soldiers opening fire.
The next question is whether or not any British soldiers would face prosecution as a result of the Saville Inquiry. There may be some efforts, but the families themselves say that jail for soldiers was never the main point. They wanted the government to report what happened and apologize, all of which happened today.
In the Bogside, the Catholic neighborhood where the march took place, march-related murals now draw hundreds of tourists who want to hear about the “Saturday matinee” (when kids would face off against the soldiers, then break for tea) and “Agro Corner,” the spot where violence (aggravation) would always start. The Troubles really began on that day, as Catholics frustrated with their second-class status concluded that the non-violence that inspired the march would not work in Northern Ireland. Until then, many believed that the techniques used by Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. would bring about change.
After Bloody Sunday, through, hundreds of young men and women joined the Irish Republican Army, believing that violence was the only way out.
Things have changed yet again, as most people in Northern Ireland embrace the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and opt for peace over sectarian fighting. Reports like this one — hideously expensive at $300 million ($21 million per victim), twelve years in the making, hugely complex — are difficult but necessary, as a way of getting the whole story out about what happened. It still remains for the real stories of what happened to thousands of other victims — among them, those killed by the IRA and Loyalist paramilitaries — to be told.There cannot be a “hierarchy of victims,” where only one side receives some level of accountability for its dead.
Perhaps it is time to start considering a truth and reconciliation commission for Northern Ireland? A very hard road, but a necessary one.
Here footage from the march (to the U2 song):