Bloody Sunday and Saville: on the far side of revenge

‘The conclusions of this report are absolutely clear. There is no doubt. There is nothing equivocal. There are no ambiguities. What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong.’
– David Cameron

‘The wait has been almost 40 years. Today the truth has been told. I say to my little brother Michael, at last you can rest in peace forever.’
– Catherine Kelly, whose younger brother Michael died on Bloody Sunday

The Saville Inquiry was commissioned by Tony Blair in 1998 to re-examine the findings of Lord Widgery on the events of Sunday 30 January 1972. On that day, 13 civil rights marchers were shot dead by British soldiers during an anti-internment march in Londonderry. Widgery’s findings, that there were “strong suspicions” that the army had been fired upon first, have been fiercely contested by the Irish Catholic community of Derry for 30 years.

The Saville Report, published this afternoon, finally and unequivocally exonerates the victims of  that shameful day, 30 January1972, when thirteen people were killed, while another died of his injuries later. The report is damning about the actions and testimonies of some of the soldiers.  For example:

We have no doubt that Lance Corporal F shot Patrick Doherty and Bernard McGuigan, and it is highly probable that he also shot Patrick Campbell and Daniel McGowan. In 1972 Lance Corporal F initially said nothing about firing along the pedestrianised area on the southern side of Block 2 of the Rossville Flats, but later admitted that he had done so. No other soldier claimed or admitted to firing into this area. Lance Corporal F’s claim that he had fired at a man who had (or, in one account, was firing) a pistol was to his knowledge false. Lance Corporal F did not fire in a state of fear or panic.

The final two sentences of the report state:

What happened on Bloody Sunday strengthened the Provisional IRA, increased nationalist resentment and hostility towards the army and exacerbated the violent conflict of the years that followed. Bloody Sunday was a tragedy for the bereaved and the wounded, and a catastrophe for the people of Northern Ireland.

Earlier, I listened to Bloody Sunday: Scenes from the Saville Inquiry, the 2005 BBC dramatisation by Guardian journalist Richard Norton-Taylor of four years of evidence of the Saville Inquiry, distilled into two hours.  It  created compelling drama from thousands of hours of testimony. The most telling aspect was the contrast between the civilian witnesses, who remembered what they saw in vivid detail, and the soldiers, with their evasions, lies and convenient memory lapses.

“I just want to say this to the British Government… You know what you’ve just done, don’t you? You’ve destroyed the civil rights movement, and you’ve given the IRA the biggest victory it will ever have. All over this city tonight, young men… boys will be joining the IRA. and you will reap a whirlwind.”
– Ivan Cooper, MP, organiser of the march to protest against the introduction of internment without trial, 30 January 1972:

I can’t believe the news today
Oh, I can’t close my eyes and make it go away!
How long?
How long must we sing this song?
How long?

And the battle’s just begun
There’s many lost but tell me who has won
The trenches dug within our hearts
And mothers, children, brothers, sisters torn apart

– ‘Sunday, Bloody Sunday’, U2

The dead: Paddy Doherty, 31. Gerald Donaghy, 17. Jackie Duddy, 17. Hugh Gilmour, 17. Michael Kelly, 17. Michael McDaid, 20. Kevin McElhinney, 17. Barney McGuigan, 41. Gerald McKinney, 35. Willie McKinney, 26. William Nash, 19. Jim Wray, 22. John Young, 17.

Simon Winchester was the Guardian’s reporter in Derry on Bloody Sunday. Read his superb piece reflecting on that day and this.

From The Cure at Troy by Seamus Heaney:

Human beings suffer,
they torture one another,
they get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
can fully right a wrong
inflicted or endured.

The innocent in gaols
beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker’s father
stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
faints at the funeral home.
History says, Don’t hope
on this side of the grave.

But then, once in a lifetime
the longed for tidal wave
of justice can rise up,
and hope and history rhyme.
So hope for a great sea-change
on the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
is reachable from here.

Believe in miracles
and cures and healing wells.
Call the miracle self-healing:
The utter self-revealing
double-take of feeling.

If there’s fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky
That means someone is hearing
the outcry and the birth-cry
of new life at its term.

3 thoughts on “Bloody Sunday and Saville: on the far side of revenge

  1. When will we hear about General Sir Mike Jackson’s involvement in the bloody sunday massacre. He went on to become the head of the British army. he was also the ground commander on the day. How did he get to the top? Why was he saved? With whom was he in collusion

    The 839 year struggle continuues

  2. There must be such mixed emotions going on – elation that justice has at last been done and I echo Peter’s sentiments in saying, “Thank God for that”, but how sad that it took the toll of 38 years to reach this point. I wonder how many ordinary people died broken-hearted before their time, how many became ill with the worry of it all or abandoned hope altogether and came to the conclusion that violence reaped the better benefits. Heaney’s miracle has happened. May the dead rest in peace and may those left behind be empowered to gather up the remnants of their lives and find there sufficient coverage to clothe them with strength, energy and hope for the future.

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