The political reaction to the Saville Report has been largely predictable, entrenching already well established opinions on the single most notorious day in the history of this region.
Bloody Sunday was the sleeping elephant of Northern Ireland politics, it was discussed, argued over, examined and influenced all subsequent events due to its presence. The problem in awaking this elephant, as the Saville Report has done by addressing it officially and definitively, is to cause a stampede which threatens to trample all before it.
Certainly, for the victim’s families, the official recognition that the killing of 26 unarmed civil rights protesters was “unjustified and unjustifiable” vindicates what they knew to be true for the last 38 years and opens the possibility of charges being brought against soldiers who fired the fatal shots.
The local political implications are murky to say the least. The report could only ever be an affirmation or denial of truth, never hoping create new truths. Unionists, long convinced that Martin McGuinness was active on the ground as an IRA member on Bloody Sunday, have highlighted the report’s findings that he was “probably” armed with a Thompson sub-machinegun. Reg Empy has called on the deputy first minister to “own up” and that by denying his involvement he is”actually undermining the report.”
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, while paying lip service to the victim’s families, said that Saville had affirmed the Republican belief that there was a “cover-up which was authorized of the highest levels within the British Establishment and lasted for almost four decades.”
Outside of the direct impact on the victims and the perpetrators the report has done nothing but provide an opportunity for unnecessary one-upmanship and threatens to topple our political institutions like a house of cards. How we got here will not change where we are.
Voices of reason, like a football chant in a vuvuzela din, are struggling to be heard. Surprisingly these voices are two of the most senior figures in the DUP. Peter Robinson has stated “we should close the book and we should move on as as a society and get the healing within our community that is so much needed”, while Gregory Campbell reiterated the view of his party leader that we have to “put it to one side and move forward into the future rather than look back into the past”.
If there is to be a lasting legacy of the Saville Inquiry it should be in its ability to serve as a catalyst for the future rather than acting as an anchor to the past.