Saville: A good day for reconcilation

For those who don’t remember or haven’t studied the history, the only false note was struck when the claim was repeated several times on news channels, that Bloody Sunday marked the end of the civil rights era and Derry’s association with the northern State. Culled from some news cutting, no doubt.

In fact, whatever the banners said on the day, the original civil rights campaign had long ago been superseded by a war of attrition and armed insurgency. The SDLP had quit Stormont the previous June – even before the fiasco of internment – in the wake of the army’s shootings of two young men, Cusack and Beattie.

But today, the transformation was complete. Call it euphoria or release if you like, but to me it looked and felt longer lasting . The crowds in front of the Guildhall seemed to be bringing a very old isolation to a final conclusion and marking a further stage of reconciliation with a new State in which they now play a full part.

Unionists need not have feared that this was going to be Sinn Fein’s day, the greatest in a long line of republican propaganda coups. The televised display of people power did not reinforce the republican narrative of the Troubles. The shout of “innocent” coming after the  names of each of the 14 dead gave the lie to that and put the emphasis in the right place. Revolutionaries are indifferent to matters of guilt or innocence. And it was obvious to all that the affirmation of innocence was what mattered today.

Not all the deep emotion was reserved to Guildhall Square.  Beneath the bigger but similar clock, deep feelings were expressed in the Commons. It was fitting that Mark Durkan brought the spirit of the Guildhall crowd to Westminster. Almost uniquely, the two very different forums, so often bitterly divided or locked in mutual incomprehension, were linked and united. London’s Derry or Derry’s Westminster indeed. Mark’s speech is worth quoting at length. In deliberate imitation of the custom at PMQs when the names of soldiers killed in Afghanistan are read out, he spoke the names of each of the 14 dead, his voice cracking.

Mark Durkan

May I thank the Prime Minister for his clear statement? From talking to representatives of the families a short while ago, I know that they would want to be associated with those thanks.

This is a day of huge moment and deep emotion in Derry. The people of my city did not just live through Bloody Sunday; they have lived with it since. Does the Prime Minister agree that this is a day to receive and reflect on the clear verdicts of Saville, and not to pass party verdicts on Saville?

The key verdicts are:

“despite the contrary evidence given by soldiers, we have concluded that none of them fired in response to attacks or threatened attacks by nail or petrol bombers. No one threw or threatened to throw a nail or petrol bomb at the soldiers on Bloody Sunday”.

A further verdict is:

“none of the casualties…was posing any threat of causing death or serious injury.”

Of course, there is also the verdict that

“the British Army fired the first shots, these were not justified and none of the subsequent shots that killed or wounded”

anyone on Bloody Sunday “was justified.” In rejecting so much of the soldiers’ submissions and false accounts, the report highlights where victims were shot in the back or while crawling on the ground, or shot again when already wounded on the ground.

Will the Prime Minister confirm that each and every one of the victims—Bernard McGuigan, 41; Gerald Donaghey, 17; Hugh Gilmour, 17; John Duddy, 17; Gerard McKinney, 34; James Wray, 22; John Young, 17; Kevin McElhinney, 17; Michael Kelly, 17; Michael McDaid, 20; Patrick Doherty, 31; William McKinney, 27; William Nash, 19; and John Johnston, 59

are all absolutely and totally exonerated by today’s report, as are all the wounded? These men were cut down when they marched for justice on their own streets. On that civil rights march, they were protesting against internment without trial, but not only were their lives taken, but their innocent memory was then interned without truth by the travesty of the Widgery tribunal. Will the Prime Minister confirm clearly that the Widgery findings are now repudiated and binned, and that they should not be relied on by anyone as giving any verdict on that day?

Sadly, only one parent of the victims has survived to see this day and hear the Prime Minister’s open and full apology on the back of this important report. Lawrence McElhinney epitomises the dignity and determination of all the families who have struggled and strived to exonerate their loved ones and have the truth proclaimed.

Seamus Heaney reflected the numbing shock of Bloody Sunday and its spur to the quest for justice for not only families but a city when he wrote:

My heart besieged by anger, my mind a gap of danger,

I walked among their old haunts, the home ground where they bled;

And in the dirt lay justice, like an acorn in the winter

Till its oak would sprout in Derry where the thirteen men lay dead.”

The Bloody Sunday monument on Rossville street proclaims:

Their epitaph is in the continuing struggle for democracy”.

If today, as I sincerely hope it does, offers a healing of history in Derry and Ireland, may we pray that it also speaks hope to those in other parts of the world who are burdened by injustice, conflict and the transgressions of unaccountable power?

The Prime Minister’s welcome statement and the statement that will be made by the families on the steps of the Guildhall will be the most significant records of this day on the back of the report that has been published. However, perhaps the most important and poignant words from today will not be heard here or on the airwaves. Relatives will stand at the graves of victims and their parents to tell of a travesty finally arrested, of innocence vindicated and of promises kept, and as they do so, they can invoke the civil rights anthem when they say, “We have overcome. We have overcome this day.”

The cause of wider redress was fairly put by Willie McCrea and by Gregory Campbell,  though rather marred in his case by a lack of magnanimity.

Gregory Campbell

“We did not need a £200 million inquiry to establish that there was no premeditated plan to shoot civilians on that day. We did not need a report of such length to tell us that as a result of IRA actions before Bloody Sunday, parts of the city “lay in ruins”. Many have said that the difference between Bloody Sunday and the other atrocities that I have alluded to was that Bloody Sunday was carried out by state forces, whereas other murders were carried out by terrorists.

There has been no similar inquiry into the financing of the Provisional IRA at the inception of that organisation by another state—the Irish Republic. That Irish state acted as a midwife at the birth of an organisation responsible for murdering many thousands of UK citizens.

Soldiers answered questions in the course of the Saville inquiry. The 2IC of the Provisional IRA, Martin McGuinness, appears not to have answered questions. The public will want to know from today what he was doing with a Thompson sub-machine-gun on the day of Bloody Sunday. Does the Prime Minister agree that the sorry saga of the report is finally over and done with, and that we should look forward, rather than looking back?

Dr William McCrea

“I am sure the Prime Minister would not like to support a hierarchy of victimhood. On 17 January 1992, eight innocent civilian construction workers at Teebane were murdered by the Provisional IRA, and six others were seriously injured. On 9 April 1991, my cousin Derek was gunned down and his child was left to put his fingers into the holes where the blood was coming out to try to stop his father dying. On 7 February 1976, my two cousins were brutally murdered—one boy, 16, and his sister, 21, on the day she was engaged to be married. Therefore I say this to the Prime Minister: no one has ever been charged for any of those murders, and there have been no inquiries. Countless others, including 211 Royal Ulster Constabulary members, were also murdered. Saville says

“Noneof the casualties was posing any threat of causing death or serious injury”,

but that could be said of Teebane, of Derek, of Robert and of Rachel. How do we get closure, how do we get justice, and how do we get the truth?”

Despite its monumental length and cost, Saville may yet boost calls for more inquiries. Margaret Ritchie is not alone in calling for a review of the “Ballymurphy massacre” and it was significant that while David Cameron wished to hold the line at the Historic Inquiries team, this was not the day to rule out some form of wider examination. The failure of Eames Bradley has left a vaccuum. It will have to be filled somehow.

Ms Margaret Ritchie

Will he also give consideration to possible measures of redress for the families in Derry following the exoneration of the victims by the Saville report? In that debate, could wider consideration be given to the Ballymurphy families, who also experienced a lot of distress and pain because the Parachute Regiment, some five months earlier, was involved in those incidents, which resulted in the wounding, but above all the killing, of 10 people?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has meetings with the Ballymurphy families. The first port of call should be the historical inquiries team. It is doing good work, going through all the issues of the past and trying to settle them as best it can. We want to avoid other such open-ended, highly costly inquiries. We cannot rule out for ever that there will be no other form of inquiry, but let us allow the historical inquiries team to do its very good work.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London