On Sunday January 30, 1972, in an incident since known as Bloody Sunday, 28 Irish Civil Rights protesters were shot by the soldiers of the British Parachute Regiment after a Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association march in the Bogside area of the city of Derry, Northern Ireland. Fourteen died, six of whom were minors. Many witnesses, including bystanders and journalists, testify that those shot at were all unarmed. Five of those wounded were shot in the back.
Two inquiries have been held by the British Government. The Widgery Tribunal in the immediate aftermath of the day largely cleared the soldiers and British authorities of blame, but was criticized as a "whitewash" by many. The Saville Inquiry, established in 1998 to look at the events again (chaired by Lord Saville of Newdigate), has yet to report. The cost of this process has drawn criticism. The total cost is expected to come in around the £150 million pound mark. All costs are met by the British Government.
The Provisional Irish Republican Army campaign against Northern Ireland's membership in the United Kingdom had begun three years prior to Bloody Sunday, but the aftermath bolstered the status of and recruitment into the organization. Bloody Sunday remains among the most significant events in the recent "troubles" of Northern Ireland, arguably because it was carried out by the army and not by paramilitaries. Catholics who had looked for a just settlement of their grievances regarding discrimination and inequality while remaining within the United Kingdom now saw union with Ireland as their best hope, since the British Army was perceived as supporting the Unionists. Many who had looked to politics and negotiation as the best way of realizing their goals now turned to the paramilitaries. Sent to Northern Ireland to keep the peace, the British Army contributed significantly to the increase of violence. The "troubles" started when peaceful civil rights demonstrations, inspired by those in the USA, resulted in riots and violence.
Many details of the day's events are in dispute, with no agreement even on the number of marchers present that day. The organizers, Insight, claimed that there were 30,000 marchers; Lord Widgery in his Inquiry, said that there were only 3,000 to 5,000. In The Road To Bloody Sunday, local General practitioner Dr. Raymond McClean estimated the crowd as 15,000, which is the figure used by Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, MP in British House of Commons.
A wealth of material has been produced relating to the day. There have been numerous books and articles written, as well as documentary films made on the subject.
The march's planned route took it to the Guildhall, but due to army barricades it was redirected to Free Derry Corner. A small group of teenagers broke off from the main march and persisted in pushing the barricade and marching on the Guildhall. They attacked the British army barricade with stones and shouted insults at the troops. 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, though observers reported that the rioting was not intense. Two people were shot and wounded by soldiers on William Street.
At a certain point, reports of an IRA sniper operating in the area were given to the British command center. The order to fire live rounds was given and one young man was shot and killed whilst he ran down Chamberlain Street away from the advancing troops. This first man shot, Jackie Duddy, was among a crowd who were running away. He was running alongside a priest, Father (later Bishop) Edward Daly, when he was shot in the back. The aggression against the British troops escalated, and eventually the order was given to mobilize 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 British HQ, over a hundred rounds were fired directly into the fleeing crowds by troops under the command of Major Ted Loden. Twelve more were shot dead, many of them killed whilst attempting to aid the fallen. Fourteen others were wounded, twelve by fire from the soldiers and two knocked down by armored personnel carriers.
Thirteen people were shot dead, 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 the threat of gunmen and nail-bombs from suspected IRA members. However, all eye-witnesses (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 gun-fire or reported any injuries, nor were any bullets or nail-bombs recovered to back up their claims. In the rage that followed, irate crowds burned down the British embassy in Dublin. Anglo-Irish relations hit one of their lowest ebbs, with 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." However, as Britain had a veto on the UN's Security Council, this was never a realistic option.
Although there were many IRA men present at the protest, they were all unarmed, apparently because it was anticipated that the Paratroopers would attempt to "draw them out." MP Ivan Cooper had been promised beforehand that no armed IRA men would be near the march. Many of the Paratroopers who gave evidence at the Tribunal testified that they were told by their officers to expect a gunfight and had been encouraged to "get some kills."
The official coroner for the City of Derry/Londonderry, retired British army Major Hubert O'Neill, issued a statement on August 21, 1973, at the completion of the inquest into the people killed, he declared:
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.
In the immediate aftermath of Bloody Sunday, the British government under Prime Minister Edward Heath established a commission of inquiry under the Lord Chief Justice, John Widgery, Baron Widgery. Many of the witnesses were prepared to boycott the inquiry as they lacked faith in his impartiality but were eventually persuaded to take part. His quickly-produced report (published within 11 weeks on April 19, 1972) supported the Army's account of the events of the day. Among the evidence presented to the inquiry were Greiss tests on the hands of the dead which seemed to show that some of them had handled explosives. The same test provided positive results which helped to convict the Birmingham Six, Maguire Seven, and Judith Ward, all found guilty of terrorist attacks linked with the IRA; these results were later established to have been false and the convictions were quashed, although at the time the Greiss test was regarded as accurate. Paraffin tests, used to identify lead residues from firing weapons, gave positive results on some of the dead. Most Irish people and witnesses to the event disputed the report's conclusions and regarded it as a whitewash. It is now widely accepted that nail bombs photographed on Gerard Donaghy were planted there after his death and firearms residue on some deceased came from contact with the soldiers who themselves moved some of the bodies.
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 3 of the 14 deaths.
Although British Prime Prime Minister John Major had rejected John Hume's requests for a new 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 Justice of the High Court of Australia with an excellent reputation for his work 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 is currently being written. The Saville Inquiry was a far more comprehensive study than the Widgery Tribunal, interviewing a wide range of witnesses, including local residents, soldiers, journalists, and politicians. The evidence so far has undermined to some extent the credibility of the original Widgery Tribunal report. Allegations were made that some bodies were placed next to guns and explosives, and other substances (including playing cards) have been found to cause false positives in tests for explosives. Some of the scientists responsible for the original reports to the Widgery Tribunal now dismiss the interpretations that were put on their findings by the Ministry of Defence. Lord Saville has declined to comment on the Widgery report and has made the point that the Saville Inquiry is a judicial inquiry into Bloody Sunday, not the Widgery Tribunal.
Evidence given by Martin McGuiness, the deputy leader of Sinn Féin, to the inquiry stated that he was second-in-command of the Derry branch 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.
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, the MoD claimed that guns used on the day by the soldiers—guns that should have been evidence in the inquiry—had been destroyed. However, some of the weapons were subsequently recovered in various locations (such as Sierra Leone, Beirut, and Little Rock, Arkansas).
By the time the inquiry had retired to write up its findings it had interviewed over 900 witnesses, over seven years, at a total cost of £155m, making it the biggest investigation in British legal history.
In mid-2005, the play, BLOODY SUNDAY: Scenes from the Saville Inquiry, based on the drama of the Saville inquiry, opened in London, and subsequently traveled 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."
Despite the controversy, all sides agree that Bloody Sunday marked a major negative turning point in the fortunes of Northern Ireland. 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/Londonderry should be ceded to the Republic of Ireland.
When it arrived in Northern Ireland, the British Army was welcomed by Catholics as a neutral force there to protect them from Protestant mobs, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and the Ulster Special Constabulary (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 nationalism/republicanism towards Marxism, the Provisional IRA began to win the support of newly radicalized, disaffected young people.
In the following twenty years, the Provisional IRA and other smaller republican groups such as the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) mounted an armed campaign against the United Kingdom, by which they meant the RUC, the British Army, the almost entirely Protestant Ulster Defence Regiment of the British Army (and, according to their critics, the Protestant and unionist establishment). With rival paramilitary organizations appearing in both the nationalist/republican and unionist/loyalist communities (the Ulster Defence Association, Ulster Volunteer Force, etc. on the loyalist side), a bitter and brutal war took place that cost the lives of thousands. Terrorist outrages involved such acts as the killing of three members of a Catholic pop band, the Miami Showband, by a gang including members of the UVF who were also members of the Ulster Defence Regiment and in uniform at the time, and the killing by the Provisionals of World War II veterans and their families attending a war wreath laying in Enniskillen.
With the official cessation of violence by some of the major paramilitary organizations and the creation of the power-sharing executive at Stormont (NI Parliament) in Belfast under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the Saville Tribunal's re-examination of what remains one of the darkest days in Ireland for the British army, offers a chance to heal the wounds left by the notorious events of Bloody Sunday.
The incident has been commemorated by U2 in their 1983 protest song "Sunday Bloody Sunday." The song begins by expressing the anger of the singer at the events, before evolving into a call for all Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, in Northern Ireland to abandon sectarianism and fight to achieve a genuinely Christian society through Jesus Christ's victory over death in the resurrection on Easter Sunday ("to claim the victory Jesus won on a Sunday, Bloody Sunday").
In the popular live recording from the Under a Blood Red Sky concert album, Bono clearly states in the introduction that "Sunday Bloody Sunday" is "not a rebel song," wary lest the song be misrepresented as supporting physical force Irish republican movements. In the version from their 1988 concert film Rattle and Hum, Bono led the audience in a chant of "No more!" and used the song as a platform to denounce some Irish-Americans that he believed knew little about the real complexities of the Northern Ireland conflict yet funded the paramilitary republican movement and "the glory of dying for the revolution."
The John Lennon album Sometime In New York City features a song titled "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 was of Irish descent.)
Paul McCartney (also of Irish descent) issued a single shortly after Bloody Sunday titled "Give Ireland Back To The Irish," expressing his views on the matter. It was one of few McCartney solo songs to be banned by the BBC.
The events of the day have also been dramatized in the two 2002 films, Bloody Sunday (starring James Nesbitt) and Sunday by Jimmy McGovern. Their portrayal of events is much closer to the opinion of the protesters and media witnesses than the official explanation of events offered by the British Army.
All links retrieved June 13, 2016.
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