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.
Woodwards 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 Britains top judges for perjury and collusion in torture in the Binyam Mohamed case. Woodwards 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 dont 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. Hes 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 wasnt rehabilitated pronto, plans for the devolution of policing and justice might be endangered.
Once again, politics trumped truth.
I dont 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 dont 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.