Saville baulked at key facts to save the political elite
Published 19/03/2014 | 14:30
Patrick Murphy wrote in the Irish News last Saturday that some of Lord Saville's conclusions about Bloody Sunday were wrong. Saville had balked at key facts so as to let the top brass and the Government off the hook, Murphy suggested. He is right about that – and right to link the demands of the relatives for prosecution of the paras to the issue of on-the-runs (OTRs).
The refusal of the relatives to endorse a deal which would have freed both the Bloody Sunday shooters and the OTRs from fear of prosecution was a major factor in Sinn Fein's withdrawal of support from the Act proposed at Westminster to achieve this objective. Hence the side deal on OTRs.
Murphy is almost right in suggesting that the point of the killings was to drive the civil rights movement off the streets and clear the way for a war with armed republicanism.
However, the specific motivation for Bloody Sunday was to smash Free Derry, the "no-go" area which had been barricaded against the forces of the state since the introduction of internment five months earlier.
Documents published by Saville, convey the rage – it's not too strong a word – of senior officers, including the Commander of Land Forces NI, General Robert Ford, at the failure to put "Free Derry" down.
Three weeks before Bloody Sunday, Ford visited Derry and spoke to garrison commanders before writing a memo declaring himself "disturbed" by their attitude. Ford then arranged for the first battalion of the paras to go to Derry – for the first time – and take the lead in dealing with the anti-internment demonstration on January 30.
Saville dismissed suggestions that Ford ought to have known that this might be unwise and dangerous – in spite of evidence that senior officers were aghast.
Green Jackets commander Colonel Peter Welch phoned an aide to the Chief of the General Staff in London to ask for intervention from the top to stymie Ford's plan.
Welch told that he had been advised by a superior that his intervention was certain to prove pointless, since the plan had been endorsed "at the highest level".
In spite of this and a good deal of other evidence, Saville found that Ford "neither knew nor had reason to know" that there might be "unjustifiable" firing by soldiers on the day.
Saville went further and declared that there was "no evidence" that the political, or military, authorities "tolerated ... the use of unjustified lethal force". This cannot have been even a "contributory" cause of the Bloody Sunday shootings, he ruled. The media at the time were carrying regular complaints of unjustified lethal violence by soldiers, particularly by paras, and condemnation of military chiefs for failure to restrain them. Ford, in particular, should have had vivid memory of the Ballymurphy massacre.
He had arrived on August 6, 1971 – three days before the para killing spree which was to leave 11 people dead. But Saville reported that Ford had had no reason to suspect that the same soldiers might open fire without justification in Derry. This is perverse.
If Saville had followed the evidence, had he ascribed blame to Ford and other high-ranking Army officers, it would not have been possible for David Cameron to denounce the killings as "unjustified and unjustifiable", while maintaining that the incident cast no shadow on the Army, or the political elite, and required no conclusions to be drawn with regard to the conduct of state forces.
It would not have been possible for the Northern Ireland Office to brief nationalist leaders in advance on the broad findings of the inquiry and confidently to arrange broadcast of Cameron's Commons remarks to a crowd in Guildhall Square.
The orchestration of the publication of Saville's report was cynical and shameless, while meeting the needs of the main players in the peace process. Whether it met the needs of truth and justice is another matter.
No evidence emerged at the inquiry to suggest that those who planned and supervised the killings, or their political masters, were concerned in the slightest about the Union, or the unionists, or "the poor bloody infantry".
All that concerned them was to defend the reputation of the political elite.
It would be a travesty if the Bloody Sunday paras were brought to trial, while men with much greater responsibility for the killings went free.
But, of course, there's a British tradition of that, too.
'Army plan was
endorsed at highest level'