Ireland Revisited: Part 3
Following the failed British policy of internment, violence continued to escalate in the North and worse was yet to come. Under increasing pressure from unionism, the British Army began adopting more aggressive policies to keep Civil Rights marches in order. Then, on 30th January 1972, in an ‘illegal’ Civil Rights march, the British Army deployed the 1st Battalion of the Parachute Regiment on to the streets of Derry to quell fierce rioting. The Paratroopers indiscriminately opened fire on protestors, murdering 13 innocent civilians and injuring scores more.
The events of Bloody Sunday were broadcast all over the world and caused outrage and revulsion. The British government made an already volatile situation worse by claiming that all 13 killed were “gunmen and men carrying nail bombs” – a point ferociously denied by thousands of witnesses in Derry’s Bogside area and many Catholic clergymen who were there on that fateful day. The ministry of defence claimed that IRA snipers opened fire first at British soldiers, trying to justify the huge death toll.
Furthermore, such disregard for human life put the British Government under severe pressure to address exactly what had happened. Northern Ireland was on the brink of civil war. Nationalists were disgusted at the treatment of their community and now had a siege mentality, creating Catholic ghettos free from the British Army and RUC personnel. Meanwhile, Protestants became more alarmed that the situation may lead to a British withdrawal from the North and thus the UVF and UDA vowed to protect the union at all costs. A Provisional IRA man at the time argued that Bloody Sunday was “the greatest recruitment drive for the IRA” – as it turned non-political young people into Provisional IRA activists.
As tensions and violence increased, the power of Stormont deteriorated to the extent that there was a complete breakdown in law and order on the streets and thus, Stormont was suspended and direct rule was administered from Westminster. Protests in Dublin saw the burning of the British Embassy as the South of Ireland began taking an interest in affairs of the North. The British government appointed Lord Widgery to head up an inquiry into ‘Bloody Sunday’ (as it was now known throughout the world). In April 1972, the Widgery Report concluded that although the Paratroopers had “bordered on the reckless” that they were in fact, fired upon first and some of the murder victims had handled weapons. The nationalist community reacted to the findings with outrage, describing the report as a “whitewash” and demanding a full and proper independent inquiry.
Another inquiry into Bloody Sunday was announced some 26 years later in 1998, to be headed up by Lord Saville. The inquiry was to become the longest-running and most expensive inquiry in British legal history and lasted some 12 years. The Saville Report was released on 15th June 2010 and found that all 13 murder victims were unarmed and none posed a threat of death or serious injury to the police or army. In his report, Saville also stated that the British paratroopers had “lost control” and shot victims as they fled the scene.
In light of the report’s findings, British Prime Minister David Cameron, addressing the House of Commons, in an unprecedented move, described the British Paratroopers actions on Bloody Sunday as “both unjustified and unjustifiable”. Additionally, he apologized on behalf of the British Government by concluding that he was “deeply sorry”.
Meanwhile, Bloody Sunday marked the start of what was to become the bloodiest and destructive year of the Troubles, leaving 467 people dead and hundreds more injured. After a huge influx of support post-Bloody Sunday, the Provisional IRA began planning its revenge against the British government, which took shape several months later leaving 11 people dead and some 130 others injured….
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