Bloody Sunday Report
Was Bloody Sunday a set up? as it has now been suggested that Martin McGuinness worked as a British Agent ?
Sir,—Niall Ó Dochartaigh’s excellent article (HI 18.5, Sept./Oct. 2010) reminds us that while the Saville Report is clear on the detail of what happened on Bloody Sunday it does not leave us much wiser about the reasons. Ó Dochartaigh emphasises General Ford’s plan to reverse the policy of restraint, which had previously been implemented by those directly responsible in Derry. Inescapably Ford’s plan would lead to casualties. Still, the scale of the slaughter remains unexplained.
On Bloody Sunday also, Major Robin Alers-Hankey of The Royal Green Jackets died in London. He had received a fatal injury several months earlier in Derry’s Bogside—shot while providing cover for the fire brigade in Abbey Street. The fire had possibly been started deliberately to lure soldiers into an ambush.
The Saville Report mentions the major’s death as background to events in Derry at the time, but it does not suggest that there was any link with the terrible civilian killings that occurred only yards away from Abbey Street. To my knowledge no one has suggested such a link. Indeed, if I was a suspicious person I might conclude that there was a conspiracy to avoid making such a connection. There is, however, a significant reference to the major’s death in the book by the distinguished journalist Peter Pringle and his co-writer Philip Jacobson, Those are real bullets: Bloody Sunday, Derry, 1972.
This confirms that soldiers on duty on Bloody Sunday (including, significantly, a detachment of Royal Green Jackets at the infamous barrier 14 in William Street from where the Paras were ‘launched’) were aware not only of the major’s death before the attack on the marchers but also, very importantly, of the way his death had come about. General Ford was himself present at barrier 14 throughout the tragic events.
The death of Major Robin Alers-Hankey was itself a tragedy. He was a 35-year-old married man with two children and was the first officer to be killed in the Troubles. The Alers-Hankey family belonged to the crème de la crème of the British establishment. Important London goldsmiths, from the seventeenth century they were involved in the beginnings of English banking, the foundation of the London Stock Exchange, various sections of the army and its imperial adventures, numerous colonialist enterprises and the peerage.
The major was thus no ‘ordinary squaddie’. From the point of view of the army he must have been an iconic, even a totemic figure. His death must have been experienced as a massive blow. It is difficult to believe that revenge for it was not in the minds of at least some of those who knew him. Although as far as I know it is nowhere acknowledged, it defies logic that his death was not influential on the subsequent events in Derry. The only question, it seems to me, is how influential?—Yours etc., BRIAN LACEY.
Soldier 1002, who was in The Royal Green Jackets, told the Bloody Sunday Inquiry on Friday that while he did not see any soldiers firing their guns, he believed that “someone had lost control”.
The Saville Inquiry is examining the events of the 30th of January 1972 when 13 civilians were shot dead by British Army soldiers during a civil rights march in Londonderry.
A 14th person died later.
The former soldier said that when the paratroops moved into the Bogside, he heard a lot of shooting and assumed that it was the paras who had started firing.
Another soldier, who was also in The Royal Green Jackets, said he heard a large number of Army shots.
He said he had been concerned that the paras had lost control of their firing.
Lord Saville of Newdigate and the commonwealth judges accompanying him on the Bloody Sunday inquiry began their work nearly four years ago.
They are not expected to report back until 2004.
The Bloody Sunday inquiry was established in 1998 by Prime Minister Tony Blair after a campaign by families of those killed and injured.
They felt that the Widgery Inquiry, held shortly after the shootings, did not find out the truth about what happened on Bloody Sunday.
Bloody Sunday (Irish: Domhnach na Fola) – sometimes called the Bogside Massacre —was an incident on the 30th of January 1972 in the Bogside area of Derry, Northern Ireland, in which 26 civil rights protesters and bystanders were shot by soldiers of the British Army. Thirteen males, seven of whom were teenagers, died immediately or soon after, while the death of another man four-and-a-half months later was attributed to the injuries he received on that day. Two protesters were also injured when they were run down by army vehicles. Five of those wounded were shot in the back. The incident occurred during a Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association march; the soldiers involved were members of the First Battalion of the Parachute Regiment (1 Para).
Two investigations have been held by the British government. The Widgery Tribunal, held in the immediate aftermath of the event, largely cleared the soldiers and British authorities of blame—Widgery described the soldiers’ shooting as “bordering on the reckless”—but was widely criticised as a “whitewash”. The Saville Inquiry, chaired by Lord Saville of Newdigate, was established in 1998 to reinvestigate the events. Following a 12-year inquiry, Saville’s report was made public on the 15th of June 2010 and contained findings of fault that could re-open the controversy and potentially lead to criminal investigations for some soldiers involved in the killings. The report found that all of those shot were unarmed, and that the killings were both “unjustified and unjustifiable.” On the publication of the Saville report the British prime minister, David Cameron, made a formal apology on behalf of the United Kingdom.
The Provisional Irish Republican Army’s (IRA) campaign against the partition of Ireland had begun in the two years prior to Bloody Sunday, but public perceptions of the day boosted the status of, and recruitment into, the organisation enormously. Bloody Sunday remains among the most significant events in the Troubles of Northern Ireland, chiefly because those who died were shot by the British army rather than paramilitaries, in full view of the public and the press.
In the late 1960s, perceived discrimination against the Catholic minority in electoral boundaries, voting rights, and the allocation of public housing led organisations such as Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) to mount a non-violent campaign for change. The NICRA were secretly sponsored by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the hope that there would be a campaign of civil disturbance which would unseat the unionist government in Belfast.
While initially welcomed by the Catholics as a neutral force, relations between them [who?] and the Army soon deteriorated.
In response to escalating levels of violence across Northern Ireland, internment without trial was introduced on the 9th of August 1971. In a quid pro quo gesture to nationalists, all marches and parades were banned, including the flashpoint march by the Apprentice Boys of Derry which was due to take place on the 12th of August.
There was disorder across Northern Ireland following the introduction of internment, with 21 people being killed in three days of rioting. On the 10th of August, Bombardier Paul Challenor became the first soldier to be killed by the Provisional IRA in Derry, when he was shot by a sniper on the Creggan estate. A further six soldiers had been killed in Derry by mid-December 1971. 1,332 rounds were fired at the British Army, who also faced 211 explosions and 180 nail bombs and who fired 364 rounds in return.
Provisional IRA activity also increased across Northern Ireland with thirty British soldiers being killed in the remaining months of 1971, in contrast to the ten soldiers killed during the pre-internment period of the year. Both the Official IRA and Provisional IRA had established “no-go” areas for the British Army and RUC in Derry through the use of barricades. By the end of 1971, 29 barricades were in place to prevent access to what was known as Free Derry, 16 of them impassable even to the British Army’s one-ton armoured vehicles. IRA members openly mounted roadblocks in front of the media, and daily clashes took place between nationalist youths and the British Army at a spot known as “aggro corner”. Due to rioting and damage to shops caused by incendiary devices, an estimated total of £4 million worth of damage had been done to local businesses.
In January 1972 NICRA intended, despite the ban, to organise a march in Derry to protest against internment. The authorities who knew of the proposed march decided to allow it to proceed in the Catholic areas of the city, but to stop it from reaching Guildhall Square, as planned by the organisers. Major General Robert Ford, then Commander of Land Forces in Northern Ireland, ordered that 1st Battalion, the Parachute Regiment (1 PARA) should travel to Derry to be used to arrest possible rioters during the march. 1 PARA arrived in Derry on the morning of Sunday the 30th of January 1972 and took up positions in the city.
Events of the day
Many details of the day’s events are in dispute, with no agreement even on the number of marchers present that day. The organisers, “Insight”, claimed that there were 30,000 marchers; Lord Widgery, in his now discredited tribunal, said that there were only 3,000 to 5,000. In The Road To Bloody Sunday, local GP Dr Raymond McClean estimated the crowd as 15,000, which is the figure that was used by Bernadette Devlin in Parliament.
Numerous books and articles have been written and documentary films have been made on the subject.
Narrative of events
The people planned on marching to the Guildhall, but because of army barricades designed to reroute the march, the protesters redirected it to Free Derry Corner. A group of teenagers broke off from the march and persisted in pushing the barricade and marching on the Guildhall. They attacked the British army barricade with stones. At this point, a water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets were used to disperse the rioters. Such confrontations between soldiers and youths were common, and observers reported that the rioting was not intense. Two civilians, Damien Donaghy and John Johnston, were shot and wounded on William Street by soldiers, who claimed that the former was carrying a black cylindrical object.
At a certain point, reports of an IRA sniper operating in the area were allegedly given to the Army command centre. At 4:07 pm Brigade gave the British Parachute Regiment permission to go into the Bogside. The order to fire live rounds was given, and one young man was shot and killed when he ran down Chamberlain Street away from the advancing troops. This first fatality, Jackie Duddy, was among a crowd who were running away. He was running alongside a priest, Father Edward Daly, when he was shot in the back. Eventually the order was given to mobilise the troops in an arrest operation, chasing the tail of the main group of marchers to the edge of the field by Free Derry Corner.
Despite a cease-fire order from the army HQ, over 100 rounds were fired directly into the fleeing crowds by troops under the command of Major Ted Loden. Twelve more were killed, many of them as they attempted to aid the fallen. Fourteen others were wounded, 12 by shots from the soldiers and two knocked down by armoured personnel carriers.
John (Jackie) Duddy. Shot in the chest in the car park of Rossville flats. Four witnesses stated Duddy was unarmed and running away from the paratroopers when he was killed. Three of them saw a soldier take deliberate aim at the youth as he ran. He is the uncle of the Irish boxer John Duddy.
Belt worn by Patrick Doherty. The notch was made by the bullet that killed him.
Mural by Bogside Artists depicting all who were killed by the British Army on the day
Patrick Joseph Doherty. Shot from behind while attempting to crawl to safety in the forecourt of Rossville flats. Doherty was the subject of a series of photographs, taken before and after he died by French journalist Gilles Peress. Despite testimony from “Soldier F” that he had fired at a man holding and firing a pistol, Widgery acknowledged that the photographs showed Doherty was unarmed, and that forensic tests on his hands for gunshot residue proved negative.
Bernard McGuigan. Shot in the back of the head when he went to help Patrick Doherty. He had been waving a white handkerchief at the soldiers to indicate his peaceful intentions.
Hugh Pius Gilmour. Shot through his right elbow, the bullet then entering his chest as he ran from the paratroopers on Rossville Street. Widgery acknowledged that a photograph taken seconds after Gilmour was hit corroborated witness reports that he was unarmed, and that tests for gunshot residue were negative.
Kevin McElhinney. Shot from behind while attempting to crawl to safety at the front entrance of the Rossville Flats. Two witnesses stated McElhinney was unarmed.
Michael Gerald Kelly. Shot in the stomach while standing near the rubble barricade in front of Rossville Flats. Widgery accepted that Kelly was unarmed.
John Pius Young. Shot in the head while standing at the rubble barricade. Two witnesses stated Young was unarmed.
William Noel Nash. Shot in the chest near the barricade. Witnesses stated Nash was unarmed and going to the aid of another when killed.
Michael M. McDaid. Shot in the face at the barricade as he was walking away from the paratroopers. The trajectory of the bullet indicated he could have been killed by soldiers positioned on the Derry Walls.
James Joseph Wray. Wounded then shot again at close range while lying on the ground. Witnesses who were not called to the Widgery Tribunal stated that Wray was calling out that he could not move his legs before he was shot the second time.
Gerald Donaghey. Shot in the stomach while attempting to run to safety between Glenfada Park and Abbey Park. Donaghey was brought to a nearby house by bystanders where he was examined by a doctor. His pockets were turned out in an effort to identify him. A later police photograph of Donaghey’s corpse showed nail bombs in his pockets. Neither those who searched his pockets in the house nor the British army medical officer (Soldier 138) who pronounced him dead shortly afterwards say they saw any bombs.
Donaghey had been a member of Fianna Éireann, an IRA-linked Republican youth movement. Paddy Ward, a police informer who gave evidence at the Saville Inquiry, claimed that he had given two nail bombs to Donaghey several hours before he was shot dead.
Gerard (James) McKinney. Shot just after Gerald Donaghey. Witnesses stated that McKinney had been running behind Donaghey, and he stopped and held up his arms, shouting “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!”, when he saw Donaghey fall. He was then shot in the chest.
William Anthony McKinney. Shot from behind as he attempted to aid Gerald McKinney (no relation). He had left cover to try to help Gerald.
John Johnston. Shot in the leg and left shoulder on William Street 15 minutes before the rest of the shooting started. Johnston was not on the march, but on his way to visit a friend in Glenfada Park. He died 4½ months later; his death has been attributed to the injuries he received on the day. He was the only one not to die immediately or soon after being shot.
Perspectives and analyses on the day
Thirteen people were shot and killed, with another man later dying of his wounds. The official army position, backed by the British Home Secretary the next day in the House of Commons, was that the paratroopers had reacted to gun and nail bomb attacks from suspected IRA members. All eyewitnesses (apart from the soldiers), including marchers, local residents, and British and Irish journalists present, maintain that soldiers fired into an unarmed crowd, or were aiming at fleeing people and those tending the wounded, whereas the soldiers themselves were not fired upon. No British soldier was wounded by gunfire or reported any injuries, nor were any bullets or nail bombs recovered to back up their claims.
In the events that followed, irate crowds burned down the British embassy on Merrion Square in Dublin.Anglo-Irish relations hit one of their lowest ebbs, with the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Patrick Hillery, going specially to the United Nations in New York to demand UN involvement in the Northern Ireland “Troubles”.
Although there were many IRA men—both Official and Provisional—present at the protest, it is claimed they were all unarmed, apparently because it was anticipated that the paratroopers would attempt to “draw them out”. March organiser and MP Ivan Cooper had been promised beforehand that no armed IRA men would be near the march. One paratrooper who gave evidence at the Tribunal testified that they were told by an officer to expect a gunfight and “We want some kills”. In the event, one man was witnessed by Father Edward Daly and others haphazardly firing a revolver in the direction of the paratroopers. Later identified as a member of the Official IRA, this man was also photographed in the act of drawing his weapon, but was apparently not seen or targeted by the soldiers. Various other claims have been made to the Saville Inquiry about gunmen on the day.
The city’s coroner, retired British Army Major Hubert O’Neill, issued a statement on the 21st of August 1973, at the completion of the inquest into the people killed. He declared:
“This Sunday became known as Bloody Sunday and bloody it was. It was quite unnecessary. It strikes me that the Army ran amok that day and shot without thinking what they were doing. They were shooting innocent people. These people may have been taking part in a march that was banned but that does not justify the troops coming in and firing live rounds indiscriminately. I would say without hesitation that it was sheer, unadulterated murder. It was murder.”
Two days after Bloody Sunday, the Westminster Parliament adopted a resolution for a tribunal into the events of the day, resulting in Prime Minister Edward Heath commissioning the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Widgery to undertake it. Many witnesses intended to boycott the tribunal as they lacked faith in Widgery’s impartiality, but were eventually persuaded to take part. Widgery’s quickly produced report—completed within ten weeks (10th of April) and published within eleven (19th of April)—supported the Army’s account of the events of the day.
Among the evidence presented to the tribunal were the results of paraffin tests, used to identify lead residues from firing weapons, and that nail bombs had been found on the body of one of those killed. Tests for traces of explosives on the clothes of eleven of the dead proved negative, while those of the remaining man could not be tested as they had already been washed. Most Irish people and witnesses to the event disputed the report’s conclusions and regarded it as a whitewash. It has been argued that firearms residue on some deceased may have come from contact with the soldiers who themselves moved some of the bodies, or that the presence of lead on the hands of one (James Wray) was easily explained by the fact that his occupation involved the use of lead-based solder. In fact, in 1992, John Major, writing to John Hume stated:
” The Government made clear in 1974 that those who were killed on ‘Bloody Sunday’ should be regarded as innocent of any allegation that they were shot whilst handling firearms or explosives. I hope that the families of those who died will accept that assurance.”
Following the events of Bloody Sunday Bernadette Devlin, an Independent Socialist nationalist MP from Northern Ireland, expressed anger at what she perceived as government attempts to stifle accounts being reported about the day. Having witnessed the events firsthand, she was later infuriated that she was consistently denied the chance to speak in Parliament about the day, although parliamentary convention decreed that any MP witnessing an incident under discussion would be granted an opportunity to speak about it in the House. Devlin punched Reginald Maudling, the Secretary of State for the Home Department in the Conservative government, when he made a statement to Parliament on the events of Bloody Sunday stating that the British Army had fired only in self-defence. She was temporarily suspended from Parliament as a result of the incident.
Nonetheless, six months after Bloody Sunday, Lieutenant Colonel Derek Wilford who was directly in charge of 1 Para, the soldiers who went into the Bogside, was awarded the Order of the British Empire by the Queen, while other soldiers were equally decorated with honors for their part on the day.
In January 1997, the United Kingdom television station Channel 4 carried a news report that suggested that members of the Royal Anglian Regiment had also opened fire on the protesters and could have been responsible for three of the fourteen deaths.
On the 29th of May 2007 it was reported that General Sir Mike Jackson, [then Captain Mike Jackson] second-in-command of 1 Para on Bloody Sunday, said: “I have no doubt that innocent people were shot”. This was in sharp contrast to his insistence, for more than 30 years, that those killed on the day had not been innocent. In 2008 a former aide to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Jonathan Powell, described Widgery as a “complete and utter whitewash”.
In 1998 Lieutenant Colonel Derek Wilford expressed his anger at Tony Blair’s intention of setting up the Saville inquiry, citing he was proud of his actions on Bloody Sunday. Two years later in 2000 during an interview with the BBC, Wilford said “”There might have been things wrong in the sense that some innocent people, people who were not carrying a weapon, were wounded or even killed. But that was not done as a deliberate malicious act. It was done as an act of war.”
The Saville inquiry
Although British Prime Minister John Major rejected John Hume’s requests for a public inquiry into the killings, his successor, Tony Blair, decided to start one. A second commission of inquiry, chaired by Lord Saville, was established in January 1998 to re-examine Bloody Sunday. The other judges were John Toohey QC, a former Justice of the High Court of Australia who had worked on Aboriginal issues (he replaced New Zealander Sir Edward Somers QC, who retired from the Inquiry in 2000 for personal reasons), and Mr Justice William Hoyt QC, former Chief Justice of New Brunswick and a member of the Canadian Judicial Council.
The hearings were concluded in November 2004, and the report was published on the 15th of June 2010. The Saville Inquiry was a more comprehensive study than the Widgery Tribunal, interviewing a wide range of witnesses, including local residents, soldiers, journalists and politicians. Lord Saville declined to comment on the Widgery report and made the point that the Saville Inquiry was a judicial inquiry into Bloody Sunday, not the Widgery Tribunal.
Evidence given by Martin McGuinness, a senior member of Sinn Féin and now the deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, to the inquiry stated that he was second-in-command of the Derry City brigade of the Provisional IRA and was present at the march. He did not answer questions about where he had been staying because he said it would compromise the safety of the individuals involved.
A claim was made at the Saville Inquiry that McGuinness was responsible for supplying detonators for nail bombs on Bloody Sunday. Paddy Ward claimed he was the leader of the Fianna Éireann, the youth wing of the IRA in January 1972. He claimed that McGuinness, the second-in-command of the IRA in the city at the time, and another anonymous IRA member gave him bomb parts on the morning of the 30th of January, the date planned for the civil rights march. He said his organisation intended to attack city-centre premises in Derry on the day when civilians were shot dead by British soldiers. In response McGuinness rejected the claims as “fantasy”, while Gerry O’Hara, a Sinn Féin councillor in Derry stated that he and not Ward was the Fianna leader at the time.
Many observers allege that the Ministry of Defence acted in a way to impede the inquiry. Over 1,000 army photographs and original army helicopter video footage were never made available. Additionally, guns used on the day by the soldiers that could have been evidence in the inquiry were lost by the MoD. The MoD claimed that all the guns had been destroyed, but some were subsequently recovered in various locations (such as Sierra Leone and Beirut) despite the obstruction.
By the time the inquiry had retired to write up its findings, it had interviewed over 900 witnesses, over seven years, making it the biggest investigation in British legal history. The cost of this process has drawn criticism; as of the publication of the Saville Report being £195 million.
Banner and crosses carried by the families of the victims on the annual commemoration march
The inquiry was expected to report in late 2009 but was delayed until after the general election on 6 May 2010.
The report of the inquiry was published on the 15th of June 2010. The report concluded, ” The firing by soldiers of 1 PARA on Bloody Sunday caused the deaths of 13 people and injury to a similar number, none of whom was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury.” Saville stated that British paratroopers “lost control “, fatally shooting fleeing civilians and those who tried to aid civilians who had been shot by the British soldiers. The report stated that British soldiers had concocted lies in their attempt to hide their acts. Saville stated that the civilians had not been warned by the British soldiers that they intended to shoot. The report states, contrary to the previously established belief, that no stones and no petrol bombs were thrown by civilians before British soldiers shot at them, and that the civilians were not posing any threat.
The report concluded that an Official IRA sniper fired on British soldiers, albeit that on the balance of evidence his shot was fired after the Army shots that wounded Damien Donaghey and John Johnston. The Inquiry rejected the sniper’s account that this shot had been made in reprisal, stating the view that he and another Official IRA member had already been in position, and the shot had probably been fired simply because the opportunity had presented itself. Ultimately the Saville Inquiry was inconclusive on Martin McGuinness’ role, due to a lack of certainty over his movements, concluding that while he was “engaged in paramilitary activity” during Bloody Sunday, and had probably been armed with a Thompson submachine gun, there was insufficient evidence to make any finding other than they were “sure that he did not engage in any activity that provided any of the soldiers with any justification for opening fire”.
Regarding the soldiers in charge on the day of Bloody Sunday, Saville found: Lieutenant Colonel Derek Wilford was commander of 1 Para and on the day was directly responsible for arresting rioters and returning to base. However, Wilford ‘deliberately disobeyed’ his superior Brigadier [Patrick] MacLellan’s orders by sending Support Company into the Bogside [and without informing MacLellan]. Brigadier Patrick MacLellan was operational commander of the day. The Saville Inquiry cleared MacLellan of any wrongdoing as he was under the impression that Wilford would follow orders by arresting rioters and then returning to base, and could not be blamed for Wilford’s actions. Major General Robert Ford was Commander of land forces and set the British strategy to oversee the civil march in Derry.
Although Saville cleared Ford of any fault, he found Ford’s selection of 1 Para, and in particular Wilford to be in control of arresting rioters, to be disconcerting, specifically as “1 PARA was a force with a reputation for using excessive physical violence, which thus ran the risk of exacerbating the tensions between the Army and nationalists”. Major Ted Loden was the commander in charge of soldiers, following orders issued by Lieutenant Colonel Wilford. Saville cleared Loden of misconduct, citing that Loden “neither realised nor should have realised that his soldiers were or might be firing at people who were not posing or about to pose a threat”. In short, the inquiry found that Loden could not be held responsible for claims (whether malicious or not) by some of the individual soldiers that they had received fire from snipers. Captain Mike Jackson (later General Sir Mike Jackson) was second in command of 1 Para on the day of Bloody Sunday. Saville cleared Jackson of sinister actions following Jackson’s compiling of a list of what soldiers told Major Loden on why they had fired.
This list became known as the “Loden List of Engagements” which played a role in the Army’s initial explanations. While Saville found the compiling of the list was ‘far from ideal’, he accepted Jackson’s explanations based on the list not containing the names of soldiers and the number of times they fired. Saville had concluded that Lance Corporal F was responsible for a number of the deaths and that a number of soldiers have “knowingly put forward false accounts in order to seek to justify their firing”. Intelligence officer Colonel Maurice Tugwell and Colin Wallace, (an IPU army press officer) were also both cleared of wrongdoing. Saville believed that the information Tugwell and Wallace released through the media was not down to any deliberate attempt to deceive the public but rather due to much of the inaccurate information Tugwell had received at the time by various other figures.
Major Michael Steele was with MacLellan in the operations room and was in charge of passing on the orders on the day. Saville accepted that Steele could not believe other than that a separation had been achieved between rioters and marchers, because both groups were in different areas.
Reporting on the findings of the Saville Inquiry in the House of Commons, the British Prime Minister David Cameron said:
“Mr Speaker, I am deeply patriotic. I never want to believe anything bad about our country. I never want to call into question the behaviour of our soldiers and our army, who I believe to be the finest in the world. And I have seen for myself the very difficult and dangerous circumstances in which we ask our soldiers to serve. But the conclusions of this report are absolutely clear. There is no doubt, there is nothing equivocal, there are no ambiguities. What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong.”
Impact on Northern Ireland divisions
Harold Wilson, then the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons, reiterated his belief that a united Ireland was the only possible solution to Northern Ireland’s Troubles. William Craig, then Stormont Home Affairs Minister, suggested that the west bank of Derry should be ceded to the Republic of Ireland.
When it was deployed on duty in Northern Ireland, the British Army was welcomed by Roman Catholics as a neutral force there to protect them from Protestant mobs, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and the B-Specials. After Bloody Sunday many Catholics turned on the British army, seeing it no longer as their protector but as their enemy. Young nationalists became increasingly attracted to violent republican groups. With the Official IRA and Official Sinn Féin having moved away from mainstream Irish republicanism towards Marxism, the Provisional IRA began to win the support of newly radicalised, disaffected young people.
In the following twenty years, the Provisional Irish Republican Army and other smaller republican groups such as the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) mounted an armed campaign against the British, by which they meant the RUC, the British Army, the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) of the British Army (and, according to their critics, the Protestant and unionist establishment).
With rival paramilitary organisations appearing in both the nationalist/republican and Irish unionist/Ulster loyalist communities (the Ulster Defence Association, Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), etc. on the loyalist side), the Troubles cost the lives of thousands of people. Incidents included the killing of three members of a pop band, the Miami Showband, by a gang including members of the UVF who were also members of the local army regiment, the UDR, and in uniform at the time, and the killing by the Provisionals of eighteen members of the Parachute Regiment in the Warrenpoint Ambush-seen by some as revenge for Bloody Sunday.
With the official cessation of violence by some of the major paramilitary organisations and the creation of the power-sharing executive at Stormont in Belfast under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the Saville Inquiry’s re-examination of the events of that day is widely hoped to provide a thorough account of the events of Bloody Sunday.
In his speech to the House of Commons on the Inquiry, British Prime Minister David Cameron stated: “These are shocking conclusions to read and shocking words to have to say. But you do not defend the British Army by defending the indefensible.” He acknowledged that all those who died were unarmed when they were killed by British soldiers and that a British soldier had fired the first shot at civilians. He also said that this was not a premeditated action, though “there was no point in trying to soften or equivocate” as “what happened should never, ever have happened”. Cameron then apologised on behalf of the British Government by saying he was “deeply sorry”.
A survey conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion in June 2010 found that 61 per cent of Britons and 70 per cent of Northern Irish agreed with Cameron’s apology for the Bloody Sunday events.
Stephen Pollard, solicitor representing several of the soldiers, said on the 15th of June 2010 that Saville had cherry-picked the evidence and did not have justification for his findings.
Parachute Regiment flag and the Union flag flying in Ballymena.
In January 2013, shortly before the annual Bloody Sunday remembrance march, Parachute Regiment flags appeared in the loyalist Fountain, Waterside and Drumahoe areas of Derry. The display of the flags was heavily criticised by nationalist politicians and relatives of the Bloody Sunday dead. The Ministry of Defence also condemned the flying of the flags. In the run up to the loyalist marching season in 2013 the flag of the Parachute Regiment appeared alongside other loyalist flags in other parts of Northern Ireland. In 2014 loyalists in Cookstown erected the flags in opposition, close to the route of a St.Patrick’s Day parade in the town.
Paul McCartney (who is of Irish descent) recorded the first song in response only two days after the incident. The single entitled “Give Ireland Back to the Irish”, expressed his views on the matter. It was one of a few McCartney solo songs to be banned by the BBC.
The John Lennon album Some Time in New York City features a song entitled “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, inspired by the incident, as well as the song “The Luck of the Irish”, which dealt more with the Irish conflict in general. Lennon, who was of Irish descent, also spoke at a protest in New York in support of the victims and families of Bloody Sunday.
The incident has been commemorated by Irish band, U2, in their 1983 protest song “Sunday Bloody Sunday”.
The Roy Harper song “All Ireland” from the album Lifemask, written in the days following the incident, is critical of the military but takes a long term view with regard to a solution. In Harper’s book (The Passions Of Great Fortune), his comment on the song ends “…there must always be some hope that the children of ‘Bloody Sunday’, on both sides, can grow into some wisdom”.
Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler (also of Irish descent) wrote the lyrics to the Black Sabbath song “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” on the album of the same name in 1973. Butler stated, “…the Sunday Bloody Sunday thing had just happened in Ireland, when the British troops opened fire on the Irish demonstrators… So I came up with the title ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’, and sort of put it in how the band was feeling at the time, getting away from management, mixed with the state Ireland was in.”
Christy Moore’s song “Minds Locked Shut” on the album Graffiti Tongue is all about the events of the day, and names the dead civilians.
The Celtic metal band Cruachan addressed the incident in a song “Bloody Sunday” from their 2004 album Folk-Lore.
The events of the day have been dramatised in the two 2002 television dramas, Bloody Sunday (starring James Nesbitt) and Sunday by Jimmy McGovern.
Brian Friel’s 1973 play The Freedom of the City deals with the incident from the viewpoint of three civilians.
Irish poet Thomas Kinsella’s 1972 poem Butcher’s Dozen is a satirical and angry response to the Widgery Tribunal and the events of Bloody Sunday.
Irish poet Seamus Heaney’s Casualty (published in Field Work, 1981) criticizes Britain for the death of his friend.
Willie Doherty, a Derry-born artist, has amassed a large body of work which addresses the troubles in Northern Ireland. “30 January 1972” deals specifically with the events of Bloody Sunday.
In mid-2005, the play Bloody Sunday: Scenes from the Saville Inquiry, a dramatisation based on the Saville Inquiry, opened in London, and subsequently travelled to Derry and Dublin. The writer, journalist Richard Norton-Taylor, distilled four years of evidence into two hours of stage performance by Tricycle Theatre.
The play received glowing reviews in all the British broadsheets, including The Times: “The Tricycle’s latest recreation of a major inquiry is its most devastating”; The Daily Telegraph: “I can’t praise this enthralling production too highly… exceptionally gripping courtroom drama”; and The Independent: “A necessary triumph”.
Swedish troubadour Fred Åkerström wrote a song called “Den 30/1-72” about the incident.
In October 2010, T with the Maggies released the song Domhnach na Fola (Irish for Bloody Sunday), written by Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill on their debut album.
Images from Daily Mail
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