Saville: Catalyst for the future or anchor to the past?

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.

Despite the well documented issues surrounding the time and expense of the Saville Enquiry it would be disingenuous to say that the findings presented in Tuesday’s report weren’t of benefit.

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.

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  • “a catalyst for the future”

    I think that’s most likely to be 2016. Our future is most likely to be well anchored to the past, especially commemorative events and ‘unfinished business’.

  • madraj55

    Anton Labrea You’re suggesting that Campbell is a voice of reason? I grant you Robinson was direct that the Saville conclusions were just. but Campbell on Spotlight and twice on radio Ulster called Saville report rewriting history and dodged questions repeatedly as to whether he accepted it or not. For him, the Widgery report is the final word and he couldn’t care less about the victims because they were Catholics. His track record of bigotry is decades long.

  • Anton LaBrea

    @madraj55 – he does have previous, and lots of it. This piece was written before Campbell’s subsequent comments but it’s still useful to highlight his initial reaction

  • How does the Saville report threaten to topple the political institutions exactly?

  • Nevin – I wouldn’t just single out 2016 – we are about to enter a very prolonged centenary season which will surely begin in 2012. Now, I may be wrong, but I’m guessing unionists might commemorate the Ulster Volunteers and the Solemn League and Covenant? The centenary season will roll on and on until the 100th anniversary of the end of the Irish Civil War 2024.
    Pick any year in between and there will be something – gun running, Gallipolli, Paschendale, whatever.

  • anne warren

    John, why would the Unionists want to celebrate what can only be construed as an act of rebellion against the Crown? Despite the spin put on the UVF and the events of 1912, it is hard to read them as a heartfelt desire to comply with the wishes and intentions of the Westminster (British)government of the time. There were also the little matters of the Army officers mutiny in Ireland and visits by the leaders of the conspiracy to the Kaiser on the eve of WWI. Surely anyone who believes him/herself to be British would prefer to gloss over such unsavoury events of the past that their own ancestors could well have played a part in? Particularly considering that so many (other?) people in NI died in the trenches and in Battles like the Somme, the Marne and Passchendaele?

  • Anne, I think you may be asking the wrong person. Nevin had suggested that the centenerary fetish will be in 2016, I was just moving the date forward – I would be very surprised if 2012 didn’t include some dressing up, the odd parade and maybe a renewal of the Solemn League and Covenant event etc (everyone signing in red ink of course). Maybe even a public re-enactment of gun running into Larne. The minister in charge of DCAL may even be minded to fund some (or all) of it.
    Flippancy aside, I’m sure some of the bloggers/posters on here will know if there are already working groups in place for 2012.

  • madraj55

    John O’Neill. There were reports that the DUP were making veiled threats that they couldn’t have McGuiness even as deputy FM as Saville mentioned him in his report as carrying a SMG on the day. But it seems to have blown over. Not one soldier was even hit while they killed 14 yet the DUP asks what was Marty doing on the day mand brushes off the deaths of the 14. Someone should ask these DUP members who have reacted to Saville by complaining about the cost, what is the price of a life, under 200m or over it?.

  • Anton LaBrea,
    “the killing of 26 unarmed civil rights protesters”
    No actually 14 died (well 13 and one later of his injuries).

  • joeCanuck

    Well spotted, Turgon. It escaped me and I wonder how many others.

  • sliabhdubh

    I think it was meant to be 26 injured and murdered,as the 14th person dying from his injuries,did they all not die from gunshot injuries.