Belfast Telegraph

Bloody Sunday: the final chapter in a tragic saga

Bloody Sunday. January 1972
Bloody Sunday. January 1972
Alana Burke who was eighteen when she was run over by an armoured personnel carrier on Bloody Sunday.
William McKinney, killed on Bloody Sunday.
Paddy Doherty, who was killed on Bloody Sunday.
The start of a grim day in Derry. Civil Rights marchers make their way through Creggan. They defied a Government ban and headed for Guildhall Square, but were stopped by the Army in William Street. 31/1/1972
Bloody Sunday. 30/1/1972
Bloody Sunday. 30/1/1972
Lord Chief Justice, Lord Widgery in his room at the Old Bailey as he looks through his report on the "Bloody Sunday" shootings
Michael McDaid who was killed on Bloody Sunday.
An injured man receiving attention on Bloody Sunday.
Bloody sunday in Derry 1972 when members of the parachute regiment opened fire on a banned Civil Rights march through the city.
Bloody Sunday 1972
Bloody Sunday. A number of civilians arrested by the Army are marched in a line, with their hands on their heads, through the Bogside. 31/1/1972
Hugh Gilmore who was killed on Bloody Sunday.
Bloody Sunday. 30/1/1972
Bloody Sunday. Funeral. Mrs Ita McKinney, 9 months pregnant cries behind the hearse carrying her husband James from St Mary's, Creggan. 2/2/1972.
Bloody Sunday. 30.1.1972
Bloody Sunday. Funerals. 2.2.1972
Bloody Sunday in Derry 1972 when members of the parachute regiment opened fire on a banned Civil Rights march through the city.
General Sir Robert Ford, Britain's Commander of Land Forces in Northern Ireland, pictured on July 3, 1972
Bloody Sunday when members of the parachute regiment opened fire on a banned Civil Rights march. PACEMAKER PRESS
Bloody Sunday: Up to 20 soldiers still face being formally questioned by police for alleged murder, attempted murder or criminal injury during the notorious incident
30th January 1972: An armed soldier and a protestor on Bloody Sunday when British Paratroopers shot dead 13 civilians on a civil rights march.
A scene showing British paratroopers near Glenfada Park in Derry where Bloody Sunday took place.
A scene showing a British paratrooper near Glenfada Park in Derry where Bloody Sunday took place.
A man receiving attention during Bloody Sunday.
Soldiers taking cover behind their sandbagged armoured cars during Bloody Sunday
St Mary's Church, on the Creggan Estate, during the Requiem Mass for the 13 who died on 'Bloody Sunday' in Londonderry.
Jim Wray who was killed on Bloody Sunday.
William McKinney who was killed on Bloody Sunday.
Kevin McElhinney who was killed on Bloody Sunday.
Paul Doherty in front of an image of his dying father Patrick Doherty who was shot on Bloody Sunday.
Hugh Gilmore (third left) seen clutching his stomach as he is shot during Bloody Sunday.
Lt Col Derek Wilford, the former commander of the members of the Parachute Regiment involved in the Bloody Sunday shootings
Bloody sunday in Derry 1972 when members of the parachute regiment opened fire on a banned Civil Rights march
Bloody Sunday - when members of the parachute regiment opened fire on a banned Civil Rights marc. PACEMAKER PRESS
PACEMAKER BELFAST - FLASHBACK - Bloody sunday in Derry 1972 when members of the parachute regiment opened fire on a banned Civil Rights march through the city.PICTURE CREDIT PACEMAKER PRESS
John Young who was killed on Bloody Sunday.
Gerald Donaghey who was killed on Bloody Sunday.
Gerard McKinney who was killed on Bloody Sunday.
Patrick Doherty who was killed on Bloody Sunday.
Michael Kelly who was killed on Bloody Sunday.
An injured man receives treatment on Bloody Sunday. Survivor and campaigner Johnny Duddy has died aged 87
Lord Saville
A Republican mural is seen on the side of a house in the Bogside are of Derry, the scene of the 'Bloody Sunday' shootings. 2005
Scenes from 'Bloody Sunday' in Londonderry, Northern Ireland
A man receiving attention during the shooting incident in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, which became known as Bloody Sunday, January 31, 1972.
Fr Daly waving a bloody handkerchief as he and several others carry the fatally wounded Jackie Duddy, 17, past British soldiers on January 30, 1972, known as Bloody Sunday. Picture by Stanley Matchett
The Bloody Sunday Anniversary. Among the marchers were Native Americans who attended the event because of their sympathy with Irish Nationalists. 30/1/85.
IRA gunmen in Derry during a Bloody Sunday commemoration. Pacemaker Press Intl. 29 Jan. 1978
IRA gunmen in Derry during a Bloody Sunday commemoration. Pacemaker Press Intl. 29 Jan. 1978
Bloody Sunday Commemoration. IRA Gunman displays M60 Machine Gun on streets of Derry. Pacemaker Press Intl.29 Jan. 1978.
Commemoration of Bloody Sunday march in Derry. Gerry Adams and Martin Maguiness are pictured. Pacemaker Press Intl. 30/1/83.
A youth is arrested at gunpoint by a Paratrooper in Derry on Bloody Sunday Picture by Fred Hoare

By David McKittrick

In just 558 words 38 years ago Britain's then Lord Chief Justice Lord Widgery did more to damage the country's reputation in Ireland than almost any other single act during the history ofthe Troubles.

Today another British judge, Lord Saville, will take 5,000 pages and 10 volumes to undo that damage as his inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday finally reports.

Publication of the Saville report is in many ways one of the last pieces of the peace process jigsaw put together with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

No one expects the new report to bring immediate closure on such a controversial incident. Heated argument is, for example, expected on the question of whether erring soldiers should be prosecuted. But the hope is that there will be a basis for progress from an inquiry which lasted 12 years and cost almost £200m. Widgery is remembered as making things worse: the fervent hope is that Saville can make a contribution both to justice and the peace process.

Republicans and unionists will have hugely different reactions to whatever Saville produces, since republicans traditionally criticise the Army and unionists traditionally staunchly defend it.

But both factions will be careful to ensure that their differences do not escalate into disputes that might threaten the powersharing government they run jointly in Belfast.

There will be conflicting rhetoric, but each has developed the technique of trying to make sure that the many differences between them do not deteriorate into damaging division.

Above all, neither wants to turn the clock back to anything like 1972, the year of Bloody Sunday, when almost 500 people were killed as Northern Ireland plunged into political convulsions and new depths of violence. Although no soldiers died on that day the Army paid a heavy price throughout that year, losing more than 100 men. Perhaps, without Bloody Sunday, a peace process might have developed much earlier, saving many lives.

For most of the population those were terrible times, remembered now with a shudder: the overwhelming desire on both sides is to make sure there is no return to the bad old days.

The march that preceded the deaths was to protest that Britain, and the unionist government of the day, were not giving republicans and nationalists their civil rights.

Today those old complaints about security policy, and issues such as housing, jobs and voting, have evaporated. This is largely because today the two traditions sit together in government: Martin McGuinness, on Bloody Sunday an IRA commander, is now Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister.

There will be keen interest on what Saville makes of the testimony to his tribunal of Mr McGuinness, who admitted he was second-in-command of the Derry IRA but maintained that he and other IRA members who went on the march were unarmed.

The Sinn Fein leader was blunt yesterday: "The citizens of Derry, to a man and woman, want Saville to make it absolutely clear that the 27 people who were shot on that day – murdered and injured – were completely innocent people and that those people who inflicted those deaths and injuries were the guilty parties."

Although Saville's precise conclusions are not known, his report can confidently be expected to cast aside Widgery's conclusions on the Bloody Sunday dead and injured. Widgery said of their possible involvement in handling firearms or bombs: "Some are wholly acquitted of complicity in such an action; but there is a strong suspicion that some others had been firing weapons or handling bombs."

The anger and indignation generated by these comments among the relatives of the dead and wounded has helped keep Bloody Sunday as a potent issue through the decades. Widgery must have known the truth, is their refrain: he must have known it but he pretended otherwise.

While the Saville inquiry took many years and cost many millions, many feeling it suffered from a surfeit of lawyers, Widgery was extraordinarily brisk, taking only weeks to deliver a report of fewer than 40 pages.

One of the most common criticisms of him was that he did not clear those shot of being active terrorists, although their families and neighbours knew they were not.

In stark contrast he applied only light criticism to the Paras, saying in his 550 words: "There was no general breakdown in discipline. There is no reason to suppose that the soldiers would have opened fire if they had not been fired on first."

He wrote that their training made them "aggressive and quick in decision" and that some showed "more restraint in opening fire than others". Some showed a high degree of responsibility, he held.

But he added, in the phrase which in Ireland will always be associated with his name, the firing of other soldiers "bordered on the reckless". While Saville may come up with a new generation of phrases, they are unlikely to include anything along those lines.

The brevity of Widgery helps explain why the second inquiry lasted so long, since Saville was very obviously determined that his investigations could not be condemned for any lack of thoroughness.

The Widgery report contained no expressions of regret for any of the deaths. Soldiers, he said, had had an impossible task during the disturbances, "and in these circumstances it is not remarkable that mistakes were made and some innocent civilians hit".

This afternoon the keenly-awaited document will be published, David Cameron making a statement in the House of Commons outlining its findings and giving his Government's preliminary response.

Ministers yesterday received their first sight of the document, which follows the longest-running and costliest inquiry in British legal history. The effects of the events it deals with have been even costlier in terms of disruption, destruction, and lives lost.

Belfast Telegraph


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