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True memories of Bloody Sunday

  • 17 June 2010

It was meant to be a peaceful march. But as we have all too often seen, peaceful protests, whether they be in compounds, on the streets or on sea, can end up as bloody affairs. The date of 30 January 1972, sometimes known as Domhnach na Fola (Bloody Sunday), was one such event.

A civil rights demonstration had been organised in defiance of the authorities in the Northern Irish town of Londonderry. The British Parachute Regiment was given the task of controlling it. By the end of the affray, 13 people were dead — another subsequently died in hospital — and 15 were left wounded. It catalysed 30 years of bloody conflict in Northern Ireland. Before the year was out, the British Army had lost 100 men.

Lord Saville's mammoth 5000 page report of that seminal moment of 'The Troubles' has been eagerly anticipated. It constitutes one of the final steps of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Contributions from the legal fraternity have been impressive and plentiful. Lord Saville has been able to call upon his Commonwealth colleagues, the Canadian judge William Hoyt and the former Australian High Court Justice John Toohey.

Thousands gathered to listen to the verdict. Most got what they wanted — the admission that the killings of Bloody Sunday were 'unjustified and unjustifiable'.

Rarely can a report have been rendered with such crystal clear findings. Prime Minister David Cameron issued a formal apology in the House of Commons. The report, he said, had been 'absolutely clear', leaving room for 'no ambiguities'. The civilians who were felled by bullets had been unarmed. False claims had been made by various soldiers about the presence of 'nail bombers'. Some continued to fire as the protesters fled or lay wounded. The regiment should never have been deployed to the Bogside in the first place. Prosecutors in Northern Ireland are considering the possibility of bringing charges against the offending parties for perjury.

Not all are in favour of these findings. For one thing, the sheer length of the inquiry — a staggering 12 years — has made various commentators suspect its veracity, its balance. The cost also has been enormous, some 200 million pounds. Questions have been asked as to whether the inquiry unintentionally compromised national security or breached privacy