Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Bloody Sunday: there’s no great moral dilemma

And so it begins. The Saville Inquiry report will not be published until tomorrow afternoon, but a carefully controlled leak hinting that it will find “some” of the killings unlawful has set an agenda.

So, too, has the suggestion that some of the soldiers who opened fire that day in 1972 when 13 marchers were shot dead in Londonderry could be prosecuted. A 14th died later.

What a great distraction that is. Before virtually anyone has had a chance to read the report, the discussion is moving on to what should be the consequences of it.

And that, of course, introduces what Gerry Fitt, all those years ago, referred to as “whataboutery”.

In the sister newspaper of the one which brought us the leak on Saville, yesterday Army commanders were saying that if soldiers are to be prosecuted, then Martin McGuinness and the IRA should also be investigated and prosecuted. It’s the old Northern Ireland argument — maybe I did something wrong, but what about the others who did something wrong too.

The Saville Inquiry through all its tortuous and hugely expensive investigations was simply into the events of what became known as Bloody Sunday. The central question under examination was if paratroopers, without justification, killed people who had been on a civil rights march, albeit one that was banned.

Even the original Whitewash Report conducted by the then Lord Chief Justice of England, Lord Widgery showed that four men were shot in the back while running away. There is other evidence that some of those shot dead were standing with their hands in the air at the time.

Those events were so shocking — and the original investigation by Lord Widgery so obviously a cover-up — that a second inquiry was inevitable, no matter how much the British establishment and the Ministry of Defence railed against the idea.

It has been said repeatedly that for an agency of the state, such as the Army, to commit what most reasonable people see as a crime involving mass deaths, cannot be dismissed.

There is no point in saying that the IRA or the UDA or any other terrorist organisation killed far more people and that atrocities such as happened at Omagh, Dublin, Droppin’ Well, La Mon, Enniskillen etc etc were as bad or worse and why was there not an inquiry into them.

Firstly every right thinking person accepts that those atrocities were vile and that anyone involved in causing those outrages should be brought to justice and jailed for a very, very long time. There is no need for inquiries into those events because everyone accepts that terrorists engage in terrorism.

Failure to bring those involved in mass terrorist killings to justice is a failure of the investigating agencies such as the RUC or Gardai. It wasn’t that no-one wanted the perpetrators jailed, they just failed to get the evidence to do it.

Bloody Sunday was completely different. Those who opened fire were legitimately in possession of weapons. They also had to follow rules. They were helping to impose law and order. And they were subject to the law.

The Army know who fired the fatal shots. If people were killed unlawfully then those who committed the crime should be amenable to the law. It is not a terribly complex equation or great moral dilemma.

It is time to stop muddying the waters and accept that crimes were committed on Bloody Sunday. Shamefully those crimes were committed by one of the forces of law and order.

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