MoD apologises for RAF recruitment billboard placed near Bloody Sunday massacre site in Derry
The Ministry of Defence has apologised "for any offence" after an RAF recruitment billboard placed close to the scene of the Bloody Sunday massacre incensed victims in Northern Ireland.
The air force is recruiting for reservists across the region, has re-established a base at Aldergrove in Co Antrim and said it was aiming to offer job opportunities to the widest possible number of people.
The advertisement was placed in the Brandywell area of Londonderry, near where British army soldiers shot dead 13 innocent civil rights protesters in January 1972. It was taken down this afternoon, believed to be by local people.
Kate Nash, the sister of one of the dead men, said: "I was incensed, we are anti-war and to have that looking at us outside our door was very hurtful."
Her brother William Nash was 19 when the paratroopers opened fire in the Bogside area of the city early in the conflict.
The Saville Inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday opened in 1998 and took 12 years to complete at a cost of around £195 million.
It found that those killed were innocent and Prime Minister David Cameron said the deaths were unjustified and unjustifiable.
Londonderry, or Derry to many who live there, has prospered since the peace process and recently concluded its year as UK City of Culture.
But dissident republicans endeavouring to return Northern Ireland to conflict have been active in the city. Ms Nash claimed the RAF's action was seen as provocative by some.
"There is an uneasy peace in Northern Ireland and I think that is just provocation for people," she said.
"It is offensive because it is recruiting for Britain, which was responsible for a lot of innocent deaths in the area that I lived in, it is offensive to have it up on the edge of this area."
The events of Bloody Sunday caused shock and revulsion across the world. In Dublin, a crowd of protesters burnt the British Embassy.
In Northern Ireland, it marked the effective end of the non-violent campaign for civil rights for Catholics who demanded fair housing allocations and voting arrangements from Northern Ireland's Government at Stormont.
Some young people who had previously regarded themselves as non-political joined the IRA.
Two months after Bloody Sunday, the Stormont parliament which had ruled Northern Ireland since its creation in the 1920s was suspended and direct rule from London was imposed.
The MoD has written to the legal representatives of most of the Bloody Sunday families offering compensation for its soldiers' actions, a proposal which also prompted an angry response from Ms Nash.
In response to the backlash against the advert, a statement from the MoD said: "The MoD apologises for any offence that may have been caused as a result of the placement of this advert, this was certainly not our intention.
"The MoD is an equal opportunity employer irrespective of cultural, ethnic or religious background and as such endeavours to inform the widest possible number of people of the careers open to prospective candidates.
"The use of billboards and other multi-media marketing tools are a major part of the marketing of the recruitment and as such have the widest possible distribution."
On Thursday the SDLP tweeted a picture of the billboard, telling followers the party's Derry City Council candidate Emmet Doyle had been flooded with complaints from residents. After complaining, he had been told it would be taken down by the end of the day.
However Democratic Unionist MLA Jonathan Bell defended the air force.
"The RAF has a proud distinguished history of service and recruits people from all parts of the United Kingdom regardless of their political beliefs or religious persuasion and rightly so," he said.
"Many will find it bizarre if the SDLP is opposed to RAF jobs being advertised. Such a stance suggests they have forsaken any semblance of commitment to a shared future and equality let alone fair employment.
"Their actions would merit the charge of stupidity and smack of sectarianism."