Echoes of Bloody Sunday

February 27, 2014

January 30 marked the 42nd anniversary of the British Army's massacre of unarmed civil rights marchers in Derry City in 1972, known as Bloody Sunday. In commemoration, 4,000 people marched in Derry to call for those responsible for the atrocity to be brought to justice. The Bloody Sunday Inquiry, chaired by Lord Saville, took years to complete, and when it was finally released in 2010, it finally acknowledged that all those who were murdered were completely innocent.

A two-day conference organized by the Bloody Sunday March Committee around the anniversary featured the launch of a newly published pamphlet "Go on the Paras...!" Bloody Sunday and the Continuing Search for Justice, by journalist Eamonn McCann, a veteran of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland and organizer of the march that was attacked in 1972. In the pamphlet, McCann writes:

[T]he most glaring and serious flaw in the report had to do with the way Saville and his colleagues ignored or appeared to manipulate evidence in order to let the British ruling class off the hook. The report was rightly unequivocal in declaring the guilt of the men who pulled the triggers and one of their officers. But it gave Britain's military and political leaders a clean bill of health which the evidence had shown they didn't deserve.

In this respect, the Bloody Sunday Report followed traditional lines--blame those at the bottom, protect those at the top. It was this which allowed [Prime Minister] David Cameron to welcome the report while declaring that the reputation of the British Army itself remained unsullied--the "rotten apple" theory in action. The evidence had shown that the apple barrel was rotten to the core.

Here, we print an excerpt from McCann's pamphlet. More information is available at the Bloody Sunday March for Justice website.

THE FACT that it was the British ruling class, rather than the masses, much less the Northern Protestant community, who were expected now to be hugged in forgiveness, was made explicit in the dominant theme of Westminster opinion in the days following publication of the [Saville] Report, faithfully reflected in the media, that conditions were now propitious for the monarch to visit the Republic and seal the deal. In the days after Saville, there was a remarkable plethora of media proposals--in the Times, the Guardian, the Mirror, the Sun, etc.--for a Royal visit to be scheduled without further ado.

Eight days after the jubilation of Guildhall Square, on June 23rd, it was reported that, "The Taoiseach Brian Cowen had his first meeting with the new British PM David Cameron today, and after discussing the Saville Report and the devolution of policing and justice in Northern Ireland, they announced that a State visit by Her Majesty is on the cards for some time next year."

And so it was to come to pass. Queen Elizabeth II processed through Dublin and Cork in May the following year, contentedly waving to friendly throngs. It wasn't the man on the Clapham omnibus that we were being urged to make friends with, but the Queen in her gilded carriage and the class of people who acted as her outriders.

Protesters at the January 30, 1972 march carry the body of a victim of the Bloody Sunday shooting
Protesters at the January 30, 1972 march carry the body of a victim of the Bloody Sunday shooting

There were indications in 2013 that it wasn't just the British elite who saw the report as facilitating friendly relations with their Irish counterparts. When the extensively refurbished Guildhall reopened in May, it featured an alcove dedicated to remembrance of Bloody Sunday and the Inquiry, most of which had taken place in the main hall across the corridor. The report was described throughout as the Saville Report--its name was the Bloody Sunday Report. The shift in focus was, at the least, interesting. It was anticipated that the thousands of tourists who visit the building each year could use the alcove to learn about and reflect on Bloody Sunday.

Again it was claimed, this time by council officials, that the narrative conveyed in a video installation in the alcove had been "agreed"--although, once more, it was far from clear who had agreed or what mandate they had to make an agreement.

The narrative included a clip from an interview with myself in which I was heard to say that many of the families were not pressing for the shooters to be prosecuted. What I'd said before and after publication of the Report was that many of the families--and I agreed with them--were more intent on seeing the senior military and political individuals behind Bloody Sunday in the dock, rather than the rank-and-file paras who had pulled the triggers. The distortion would have angered anyone misrepresented to such a degree. Worse and much more objectionable was the inclusion of a clip in which Michael Jackson was shown regretting Bloody Sunday and effectively denying that any soldiers other the shooters had anything to feel guilty about.

The fact that the main conspirator to cover up the murders was being presented in Derry Guildhall in a way which operated to endorse him as a trustworthy commentator acceptable to the city where the slaughter had taken place may be unprecedented in its disregard for truth and decency.

The video was removed by the council after some family members had left officials in no doubt that it would be removed anyway. To date, no one has admitted being party to the alleged agreement that it should be installed.

MANY MEMBERS of the Bloody Sunday families are intent on pursuing prosecution of the soldiers whose bullets killed their loved ones or who were wounded in the fusillade. The decision is theirs to make, and they are entitled to support in their efforts. Other family members are not intent on prosecution of the soldiers, commonly because they reasonably feel that they have fulfilled their duty to their relatives. They have families to rear and their own lives to lead.

Political elements in Ireland pressing for Bloody Sunday to be consigned to the past are, whether deliberately or not, denying the links with events elsewhere in the world mentioned in the statement outside the Guildhall--as on the platform of every previous annual commemoration. The suffering and oppression of the people of Grozny, Tiananmen Square, Dafur, Fallujah and arguably still of Sharpeville, too, cannot be put in the past.

Neither, especially, can the murder and torture visited day in and day out on the people of Gaza by Israeli forces armed and financed by the United States and supported by other Western powers, including Britain, be put in the past, or the torture and murder of Iraqi civilians. Cameron stands over all this and more. On that ground alone, Cameron's Commons speech in response to the Report can be accounted hypocrisy.

The resonance of Bloody Sunday with events in the wider world today echoes the association of Free Derry with campaigns and uprisings of the oppressed a generation ago. To break that link, to proclaim that the Bogside has gotten most of what it wanted and there's no need for marching any more, is to deny the appeals to internationalism which regularly rang from Bloody Sunday platforms over the long years when it was assumed that the chances of the campaign gaining anything at all were remote.

It is to belittle the magnitude of the atrocity, to diminish the grandeur of the struggle for justice, to deny the class nature of the killing, to load guilt on to the lower orders while allowing the upper echelons to shrug off all responsibility, to narrow the relevance of the issues arising and, most and worst of all, to shut our eyes to what we share with people who have a longer way to travel towards truth than is left to us.

The fundamental reason to continue to demand the full truth is that when the State kills its citizens, it must be held fully to account. It is in the interest of all in the bottom half of society that this be achieved. The search for the truth about Bloody Sunday is not exclusively a matter for Irish nationalists to be resolved to the satisfaction of the British ruling class and to suit the coincidental political needs of the leaders of nationalist parties.

The struggle isn't over. There are Bloody Sunday journeys everywhere which remain to be completed.

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