Belfast Telegraph

Bloody Sunday apology chance to help heal one of 'history's worst sores', says former PM

Former PM David Cameron with Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson
Former PM David Cameron with Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson

By Mairead Holland

Apologising for the Bloody Sunday shootings was "a chance to help heal one of the worst running sores in our modern history", David Cameron has revealed in his autobiography.

Twenty-eight people were shot and 13 killed by the Parachute Regiment during the civil rights march in Londonderry in January 1972.

Mr Cameron was just one month into his job as Prime Minister when the 5,000-page, 10-volume Saville Report arrived at Downing Street on the afternoon of June 14, 2010.

The report had been commissioned by Labour in 2008 after previous findings by Lord Widgery - that responsibility lay with those who had organised the march - were rejected by the nationalist community.

Mr Cameron said: "I was clear, before seeing it, about two things: I, the Prime Minister, should be the one to respond publicly; and if the findings were as bad as I expected, I, on behalf of the British government and the country, should be ready to give an unqualified apology."

He had already consulted Jonathan Caine, a special adviser in the Northern Ireland Office and "the party's authority on everything to do with Northern Ireland and relations with the Republic", and "his instinct was the same as mine".

"I sat at my desk in silence for an hour and a half, starting with the 60-page report summary. None of the casualties shot had been armed with a firearm... Soldiers lost their self-control... One person was shot while crawling away from soldiers, another while tending to his injured son, another while lying mortally wounded... Nothing could justify any of the shootings," said Mr Cameron.

"The following day, as I took my place at the despatch box, I was conscious that my statement would be simultaneously appearing on a big screen in Derry, just half a mile from where the shootings had taken place.

"I thought of the victims' families, many now elderly, who had waited 38 years for the truth. Of the reaction in the pubs that fly the Irish tricolour and the homes covered in murals of the fallen.

"I thought too of the wider reaction - on the streets in unionist areas where the kerbs are painted red, white and blue; on the roads where the Orangemen march; in the homes of the police officers, soldiers and Protestants who were murdered by the IRA and whose families would never see justice."

Not everyone was happy with Mr Cameron's statement that what happened on Bloody Sunday was "both unjustified and unjustifiable" and his subsequent apology.

He said: "I heard later that David Davis had tried to whip up the ex-soldiers on our benches to complain about my statement, but he failed because everyone realised that it was not a reflection on the brave people who served in Northern Ireland."

He said Bob Stewart, the MP for Beckenham who had previously served in the province, told him afterwards: "I told Davis to f*** off."

Mr Cameron said that in the positive press coverage following his statement, the one response that touched him the most was from Catholic Bishop of Derry, Edward Daly. The priest, who had famously waved a handkerchief as a victim was carried from the Bogside on Bloody Sunday, said it had been "a blessing to live to see this day".

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