Bloody Sunday: Once again, politics trumped truth….

Derry has more than its fair share of unfinished business viz a viz the troubles. Earlier today Eamonn McCann gave the Annual Lecture at the St Patrick’s Festival, Coatbridge, Glasgow. The following is an extract in which he argues that political processes has obscured the outcome of the Saville Inquiry:

Bloody Sunday was a key moment in the rise of the Provisional IRA. Thirty eight years later, The Saville Report is being published following the Provos’ disbandment. It would be unfortunate if the changed political circumstances were to dictate the way parties in the North respond to the findings.

There has been a strangely muted reaction to the outrageous plans of the Northern Ireland Office for publication of the Report. In a separate development, an attack on the Inquiry by the prospective Minister for Justice at Stormont resulted not in clear demands that he stand down but in frantic efforts by Nationalist politicians to rescue him from his own behaviour.

The fact that groups once at war have made their peace with the British establishment should have no bearing on judgments as to what happened in Derry in 1972. The political wing of the Parachute Regiment, the New Labour Government, represented in the North by the former Tory Shaun Woodward, is not an honest broker in relation to the Saville Report but an uncritical supporter of the British Army, a facilitator in the cover-up of crime.

The fact that appalling atrocities were also carried out in the North by both Nationalist and Unionist paramilitary groups cannot be allowed to obscure the ugly role of British forces, exemplified in the Bloody Sunday killings. The main paramilitary groups have either left the stage or say that they are in the process of so doing. Nothing less should be demanded of the perpetrators of the Derry massacre.

If, as many of us are confident will be the case, Lord Saville and his colleagues find that the Bloody Sunday killings were unlawful, the demand of all who have campaigned for the truth should be for the disbandment of the Parachute Regiment. I believe that that demand should be voiced loudly and insistently at local councils, at Stormont, at Westminster and in every forum where we can find a hearing.

Woodward’s thorough bad faith is clear from his determination that representatives of the British Government, including members of MI5, be given days to pore over the Report before the families or their representatives are allowed sight of it. This is the same MI5 which supplied Army commanders with false information about the Bogside in the days before Bloody Sunday and which has just been denounced by Britain’s top judges for perjury and collusion in torture in the Binyam Mohamed case. Woodward’s suggestion is that MI5 should be invited to recommend the deletion of lines in the Report which, in its opinion, would put national security at risk.

This, of course, was the exact reason given by MI5 in the Mohamed case for wanting the suppression of documents relating to torture. The appeal rejected MI5 bona fides with something approaching contempt.

Despite all this, I suspect that some in the audience will have been entirely unaware of the role Woodward intends for MI5 in relation to Saville. There has hardly been a major controversy about the matter. This, in my view, is because Nationalist politicians don’t want a row which might unsettle the institutions which they have become part of.

The same issue is raised even more sharply by the outburst from the prospective Minster for Justice at Stormont, Alliance Party leader David Ford. A leaked email revealed that Ford – like some Unionist sectarians, right-wing Tories, the Daily Mail etc. – regards the Bloody Sunday Inquiry as “pointless”. He’s entitled to his view. But it is a view which, whatever about other ministries, ought to have disqualified him immediately from the job of supervising the justice system.

But, astonishingly, it was the larger of the two nationalist parties which rushed most quickly to his rescue, arranging a meeting with a number of relatives of the victims at extremely short notice and then issuing Ford with a clean bill of health. The fear was that if their chosen nominee for the position wasn’t rehabilitated pronto, plans for the devolution of policing and justice might be endangered.

Once again, politics trumped truth.

I don’t make it a secret that my own views on these matters are dictated by my politics. I am a socialist, and therefore a firm opponent of both militarism and paramilitarism. I base my hopes for the future not on a system which takes the division between the communities for granted but on the self-activity of the mass of working class people. So I have no stake in the Stormont system. Neither do I believe that the choice before us is between the Stormont deal and a return to all-out violence. These are things we can debate over the coming years.

But we don’t have the luxury of years when it comes to Bloody Sunday. I say that even those who do have a stake in the system should step back, take a hard look and ask themselves whether, in this instance, and perhaps without thinking the issues through, they have not allowed the system to take precedence over all other considerations.

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  • “on the self-activity of the mass of working class people”

    Has it still not dawned on Eamonn that the ‘working classes’ take opposite sides on the constitutional question and that his politics of confrontation back in the day was most likely to set the mobs at each others throats?

    I take it it he has no stake in the Dáil system either.

  • wild turkey

    Nevin

    Nevin
    yeah, you’ve nailed it.

    in a previous incarnation Eamonn might have been a greeter at that socialist palace of mirrors, Lubyenka…but these are modern times

    check out another extract!

    A leaked email revealed that Ford – like some Unionist sectarians, right-wing Tories, the Daily Mail etc. – regards the Bloody Sunday Inquiry as “pointless”. He’s entitled to his view. But it is a view which, whatever about other ministries, ought to have disqualified him immediately from the job of supervising the justice system.’

    well, the good and just Eamonn allows that Ford is entitled to his views, but should be binned. Even if no one in the assembly calls for and demands it. And of course they don’t demand it because… they are not listening to Eamonn. Silly billies.

    How this mans persistent and repeated exercises in intellectual handjobbery, sorry, astue political analysis are tolerated is beyond me. Perhaps we should ask Archbishop Brady… or just shut the fuck up.

    Silence does seem to be the preferred response in the face of a knowing clerical, or intellectual hierarchy, that knows better.

  • Alias

    Calling the British government the political wing of the Parachute Regiment and calling for that regiment’s disbandment is bound to provoke the unionist contingent by equating the State and its army with the state-sponsored terror groups who now form part of the state’s administration but it is not unmerited when the state shoots 29 of its unarmed citizens, killing 14 of them.

    I think he is right that the former nationalists now see their new roles as apologists for the British state as being more important than securing justice for the victims of that state, and so there will be no calls by them for the disbandment of the Parachute Regiment – just as there will be no convictions for the crimes that occurred on Bloody Sunday.

  • Coll Ciotach

    If nationalist parties do not defend the report against any form of censorship then they will be rejected at the polls

  • joeCanuck

    When it came out in the 1990s that the Canadian Parachute Regiment was mistreating prisoners in Somalia, one of whom subsequently died (ok was murdered) the Canadian PM at the time, John Cretien, called them a disgrace to Canada and immediately disbanded the regiment. Although we probably have some soldiers who can jump out of aeroplanes, the Parachute Regiment, our most highly trained regular soldiers, are still no more.

  • joeCanuck

    Meant to add that the British Army is too powerful, behind the scenes, for a British PM to do the same.

  • [i]I take it it he has no stake in the Dáil system either.[/i]

    I am pretty sure he doesn’t, Nevin!

  • aquifer

    “his politics of confrontation back in the day”

    Will Saville be reporting on the local outworkings of the Trotskyite political cult of selfish agitation at any price and in any context?

    A cross-community civil rights movement could not co-exist with armed separatist violence on the street, but leftie anti-state rhetoric could complement it.

  • Henry94

    Isn’t Eamonn doing what he is urging everybody not to do. By offering his alternative to the institutions in the speech he is bringing his position on the agreement right into the debate.

    In fact he has things backward. What is important is that the report doesn’t have any impact on the current political situation not the other way around.

    Saville will be debated for a long time and that debate must proceed without any destablilisation on the institutions. One set of beliefs about what happened will probably be demolished by the report. Those who held to those beliefs my find their entire narrative of the troubles no longer viable. Keeping the ship steady during the emotional fallout will be the key job of the parties.

  • Brian Walker

    The case for treating the Bloody Sunday report as a one-off is clear. It has been a special case throughout. For reasons of public confidence, Saville should be allowed to publish it directly. Woodward is applying the normal bureaucratic reflex that governments so often strangely snag themselves up on. Reports are routinely human rights proofed and checked for unwitting breaches of security. I believe this happended to the Cory reports without comment as far as I remember. But neither check is needed. If routine prevails, governmment and Saville should state if the text has been altered in any way. This doesn’t meet Eamonn’s objections in principle. But it might help stem an outburst of paranoia that could boost rejectionist republicans who will certainly incorporate the row into their canon. This presumably is not Eamonn’s intention but it could be a consequence.

  • martin r

    So should Mr McCann change his view and principles just because 99.9% of the country isn’t broad minded or non-sectarian enough to even understand where he’s coming from never mind agree with it.

  • Neil

    So should Mr McCann change his view and principles just because 99.9% of the country isn’t broad minded or non-sectarian enough to even understand where he’s coming from never mind agree with it.

    No, he should continue expressing his views, and people will continue not voting for him. He’s put his views up there, and he’s put himself up for rejection. The fact that people go ahead and reject him/his views has nothing to do with sectarianism or broad mindedness. Some people just want a decent job.

  • “stem an outburst of paranoia that could boost rejectionist republicans”

    rejectionist? rejectionist? Brian, have you been reading too many of Comical Marty’s scripts? Surely, the Sinners are likely to benefit electorally from Woodward’s approach and that would suit London and Dublin very nicely.

  • Prionsa Eoghann

    >>Neither do I believe that the choice before us is between the Stormont deal and a return to all-out violence. These are things we can debate over the coming years.< >In fact he has things backward. What is important is that the report doesn’t have any impact on the current political situation not the other way around.<

  • DerTer

    I am an admirer of Eamonn McCann, for both his consistency and his dedication; and I frequently find his political analysis insightful. However, while he has now declared – and has done so more often recently – that “I am…a firm opponent of both militarism and paramilitarism”, I hope I am not doing him an injustice when I say that his opposition to the PIRA campaign was more often muted than it was shouted down the years.
    Be that as it may, anyone who was following events – from however far away – knew exactly what had happened on Bloody Sunday. Psyched up, perhaps deliberately, by reference to recent actions by the IRA (including the killing of three policemen in Derry some days before), paratroops with a highly macho self-image lost the run of themselves at the expense of 14 innocent lives, and 13 more injured.
    The only thing we didn’t know was whether it was all planned or dictated from on high; never a very plausible scenario, careful study of the evidence to Saville seems fairly convincingly to suggest otherwise.
    Was Saville ‘pointless’? To my surprise, I take the Martin McG/SF line. Had there been a formal apology and an acknowledgement that Widgery was a blatant whitewash, there would have been no need for Saville. The only question then is, is that what David Ford meant?

  • Alias

    DerTer, an apology by the British government would not have rescinded the findings of the original tribunal since its findings have the status of fact, and form the official record of what occurred and, of course, the historical record. The government has no authority to set aside its findings, and cannot repudiate them without finding itself in contempt of court.

    It doesn’t matter what folks ‘know’ about the events of Bloody Sunday since folklore will not outlast the findings of the original tribunal. The only way that the damage can be undone is by holding a new tribunal that will establish the true facts which will then serve as the official state record and the historical record.