Victory or Defeat?: The Politics of the Last Bloody Sunday March

The recent announcement that this year’s Bloody Sunday March will indeed be the last seems to be the result of a difficult, painful process for those who have sustained it over the years. Three days prior to the announcement, three members of the Bloody Sunday Weekend Committee resigned, citing ‘political differences’ over how future commemorations will take place.

As discussed previously on Slugger, the debate about the continuation of the Bloody Sunday March illustrates how even when the families of victims achieve some closure or consolation, as the Bloody Sunday families did with the Saville Report and David Cameron’s apology, the way in which the past is remembered remains contested.

The three committee members who resigned, Jim Keys, Stephen Gargan and Jim Collins, wrote a letter to the Derry Journal explaining why they think the march should not be discontinued:

“Some members of the committee feel that the Saville Report was a great triumph and they wanted to characterise the forthcoming commemorations in those terms. While we acknowledge the remarkable nature of June 15, we couldn’t sign up for the fact that Saville’s Report is deemed a victory. Especially considering the British military have got off scot free.”

On the other hand, Tony Doherty, who is in favour of ending the march, said:

The march has always been used as a tool for our campaign for truth and justice. It was used to keep the memory of the dead alive and to keep the injustice and the denial of truth in the public eye. We don’t expect and we can’t expect the people of Derry to keep marching on our behalf when the vast majority of us believe the campaign has been successfully concluded.”

A list of this year’s Bloody Sunday Weekend events is available here.

The use of language in these statements is interesting – people talk of ‘triumph,’ ‘victory’ and of the campaign being ‘successfully concluded.’ I think it’s important to recognise that many people rightfully felt those emotions back in June, and that post-conflict transitions should be managed in such a way as to allow people to feel and publicly acknowledge such emotions.

But in broader discussions about how we remember Northern Ireland’s past, I think that the language of victory and defeat will only get us so far. The debate about the Bloody Sunday March demonstrates that even some of those who might be expected to claim a ‘victory’ from the Saville Report don’t necessarily see it that way.

Can Northern Ireland develop a vocabulary for dealing with the past that moves beyond the language of victory and defeat, towards acknowledgement of mutual wrongdoing and empathy? I know this gets tricky when the admission of mutual wrongdoing may seem to interfere with justice, in particular cases. But are there other alternatives?

  • fordprefect

    My personal opinion (for what’s it’s worth) is that I agree with Tony Doherty. Even if the soldiers involved were brought before a court and convicted, they would come under the auspices of the GFA and would serve at least 2 years in gaol. The 14 people murdered that day have been exonerated of any wrongdoing and shown to be innocent (as well as the injured). I think a line should be drawn under it now, and, next year have a rally around the memorial set up for these innocent people, not a march.

  • Galdys
    I have no judgment to make about whether the march should continue or be wound up. However, after such a long campaign I can understand how people could be elated or emotional; especially in the face of years of defeat and vilification. I can also well imagine that at various stages the prospect of defeat was never far away as the campaign was completely driven on the Families own limits of endurance and no more. The use of words such as you detail may well have been more autonomous than of one-up-manship. Some level of restraint in some cases might be more appropriate but I think the BS Famlies have not been so in the face on victory by way of gloating and antagnostic toward anyone –even if it could reasonably be expected that they might have aright to be.

    Conflict resolution is not all about watching one’s p’s and q’s there is also a responsiblity upon whoever the other side might be to allow people some human emotion and release particularly in exceptional cases such as was deserving specifically of the BS campaign. If unreasonable burdens were to be put on people then why not extend such restrain that no one should cheer when their political candidate is successfully returned at elections. Are expressions of victory more to do with achieving a goal or to lord it over others?

  • joeCanuck

    Are expressions of victory more to do with achieving a goal or to lord it over others?

    Christy,
    Both things happen, often at the same time.
    I didn’t see any crowing from the families or supporters, just a dignified proclaiming of the innocence of the victims.
    As to whether a march should continue, I think it should be left to the Derry people to sort out.

  • Clanky

    I think the right decision has been made, it’s time for everyone to move forward rather than dwelling on the wrongs of the past.

    Now if only the orange order would announce that this years 12th would be the last…

  • Joe ditto, “I think the BS Famlies have not been so in the face on victory by way of gloating and antagnostic toward anyone”

    Clanky there are more complex arguments revolving around a continuance of the March –one argument being that it became a platform, of sorts, for a wide variety of human rights issues beyond Bloody Sunday.

  • Clanky

    That may be so Christy, however, the fact that it is “The Bloody Sunday March” means that it’s continuance would only have served to keep everyone’s minds stuck firmly in the past.

    Bloody Sunday happened almost 40 years ago, and while for the families of those killed and for those who were directly involved the terrible events of that day will never go away, the danger is that continuing to make Bloody Sunday a political issue it will be used by people who were not involved and indeed by those who were not even born to further divide society in much the same way that the events of 1690 are still used.

    If people in Derry want to hold a human rights march every year then they should do so, but it should be based on current rather than long past events

  • I am not arguming for or against the March being retained. However, the same could be said of naming bridges, roads and buildings after kings and queens and on occassion British Military Commanders –some could say they are forever surrounded by imperialist exploits and oppression of the past –local and foreign.

  • Rory Carr

    That little bit of (uncharacteristic) whataboutery from you, Christy, fairly illustrates just how self-destructive the employment of whataboutery is. If you consider that the perpetuation of the symbols of empire, monarchy and British military bombast (or “glory” as they might have it) through the naming of public structures and wayfares is to be deplored then surely you cannot wish for any remembrance of Bloody Sunday to be open to be deplored likewise.

    The purpose of the Bloody Sunday march was to make demands – that the Widgery Tribunal be recognised for the shameful exercise in cover-up that it undoubtedly was and for justice for those murdered, firstly by removing the stain of gunmen from their names, secondly by having their status as innocent victims recognised and lastly for their killers and those who controlled them to be brought before a court of law.

    In London, where I was involved for many years in its organisation, we also had the Troops Out Movement demand of self-determination for the Irish people as a whole, but that was a demand that was one of political principle for the progressive sections of British society that of necessity underpinned all activity on Ireland within Britain.

    The foremost demands have now been met with the verdict of the Saville Inquiry and P.M. Cameron’s House of Commons statement and such has been fulsomely recognised by the Bloody Sunday relatives and indeed the Irish public at large.

    It is recognised that the final demand is unlikely of achievement and, in any case, given the agreement on past crimes or activities contained in the GFA, would serve little purpose after so long.

    I consider that the families have struck the right note here and, while I see possible merit in the continuance of an annual commemoration that would highlight continuing like injustices throughout the world, I believe that it would be very wrong indeed for any splinter group to decide on their own that an annual march will continue because… well, because they say so, because they feel like it.

    It was the unity of the Bloody Sunday campaign that eventually led to the two demands being met it would be shameful now if that unity were be be broken in order that political mavericks might exploit the memory of all that happened in order to promote their own agends which is unlikely to win widespread support.

  • Rory I appreciate what you say and in some ways agree with you but I was responding to an oft repeated ‘thats’s done, it’s in the past, move on and forget about it’ –I am cautious about such remarks , if not for the motives behind making such statments, but the potential to alienate that such sweeping remarks can cause (even if not intended). Is the next stage of the process to name roads, bridges etc after events such as Bloody Sunday -and could that replace the march? (I don’t know the answer myself)

    It is not a case of whataboutry but there is a culture or an accepted norm of sorts within British culture itself to name, commerorate, and honour (which includes marches and parades) –no bad things in themselves; I would not for one minute insult people for remembering their war dead past or present as they see appropriate but here arrives the tricky bit between whataboutry, equality and mutual respect. There are annual marches take place throughout the UK regarding rememberance of those who died in conflict and in many ways Bloody Sunday to Nationalists is of equal poignancy. There are people who lost loved ones throughout NI who had no dedicated march for them but the Bloody Sunday march was/has been something with which they related to at personal level because Bloody Sunday did carry a common burden and concern for many others if not the whole Nationalist community. The BS march was as much about remerance as it was about demands.

    In regard the Families unity breaking up –that is natural as their interests are no longer focused in the same way –neither set of Families are right or wrong regarding the future of the march and I would hope they agree to disagree on the matter.

    I do not think the Families got justice in the end because of the March alone. Justice did not come about solely because of the March and for each, and most of us, we will never come to know the soul destroying effects from waiting year in and year out as some move, glimer of hope, was materialising politically or legally –and all too often came to nothing as we do know. Then the months of not knowing if there ever would be any hope again. I am sure that each Family went through this cycle and did so for so many years that it was cruel to have subjected them to that.

    The march in many ways provided oppurtunity for the Nationalist community (and further afield) to express their support and solidarity with the Families because the killings were an attack on the whole Nationalist community. The March was also as much about shame as it was about demands. And, if the march represented a lot more than just demands then for that reason I can see grounds for why it might continue.

  • Reader

    Christy Walsh: There are annual marches take place throughout the UK regarding rememberance of those who died in conflict and in many ways Bloody Sunday to Nationalists is of equal poignancy. There are people who lost loved ones throughout NI who had no dedicated march for them but the Bloody Sunday march was/has been something with which they related to at personal level because Bloody Sunday did carry a common burden and concern for many others if not the whole Nationalist community. The BS march was as much about remerance as it was about demands.
    Do you think there should be another annual march (probably east of the Bann) for dead unionists? Or had you forgotten that aspect of the matter completely?

  • pippakin

    Bloody Sunday is about the victims and families of that awful act of murder whether the march goes on or not should be up to them.

    But, imo there is a debate to be had about a national commemoration to all the victims of the troubles, regardless of who did what, simply to remember all the victims and their families.

  • Reader perhaps if you read my contribution you might figure from my tone the answer to your question instead of deciding the answer based upon the chip on your shoulder.

  • Reader

    Christy Walsh: Reader perhaps if you read my contribution you might figure from my tone the answer to your question instead of deciding the answer based upon the chip on your shoulder.
    Nope – there aren’t any clues in your tone. I did see references to Nationalist community; Nationalists; Nationalist Community; Nationalist Community. But no indication that you felt the community could manage any wider remembrance.

  • fordprefect

    Reader
    please tell me of an incident where the state (british) forces conducted a massacre on this scale on the protestant/loyalist/unionist community. And don’t quote any IRA atrocities or anything like that, they were the “bad” guys, remember?

  • Reader you saw no reference to Uk wide remeberance of UK/British war dead, past and present? You read nothing about roads, bridges and and buildings named in honour of British royalty or military commanders? I made reference to them all –your complaint seems to make distinction between British and Unionist –does reference to British or the UK not include unionism? Now that is an interesting distinction being made by you??

  • Reader

    Christy Walsh: Reader you saw no reference to Uk wide remeberance of UK/British war dead, past and present? You read nothing about roads, bridges and and buildings named in honour of British royalty or military commanders? I made reference to them all.
    Then I see some part of your confusion. As you should know, many of the war dead were Irish – both Nationalist and Unionist.
    In addition, civilian victims of the IRA are not commemorated on war memorials, or on Remembrance Sunday. Your logic was for civilian victims, but you have narrowed the scope – only nationalist. ‘fordprefect’ made a jump you haven’t yet made – don’t count victims of the IRA. Do you want to comment on his proposal?
    Christy Walsh: your complaint seems to make distinction between British and Unionist –does reference to British or the UK not include unionism? Now that is an interesting distinction being made by you??
    I am a unionist – both British and Irish, like many civilian victims in the troubles. Your categorical, binary, division of the communities is starker than anything I have yet seen. If I were to be killed by Loyalists, Republicans or the Security forces, you seem to be clear that the ongoing Bloody Sunday marches you envisage would not commemorate my death. However, they could commemorate the death of the friend who died at my side (depending…).
    And what about a lifelong Alliance voter, would you commemorate his death?

  • Reader

    fordprefect: please tell me of an incident where the state (british) forces conducted a massacre on this scale on the protestant/loyalist/unionist community. And don’t quote any IRA atrocities or anything like that, they were the “bad” guys, remember?
    Let’s get this clear – you think the dead should only be commemorated if they were killed by the good guys? Those killed by the bad guys should be ignored? That really makes no sense.
    Would you consider commemorating the innocent victims of the IRA, or would that thought make you uncomfortable?

  • Reader
    My very first sentence in this blogg reads, “I have no judgment to make about whether the march should continue or be wound up. ” Should it continue what causes, ethnic group/s, political agenda the march promotes is equally nothing to do with me. So you are doing more to vent some perceived slight against unionists than what actually exists.

    If you think that the march should continue and give some recogintion to unionism then you might be better advised to contact the Families/organisers of the March and put your proposals to them. I cannot help more than that.

  • Brian

    Reader

    I don’t understand your hostility towards Christy. He is completely reasonable and not exactly a Republican cheerleader.

    Unionists or whomever can have any commemoration they want for their innocent dead at the hands of Republican paramilitaries. There were certainly many innocent people, of all stripes and ages, who were victims of the Republicans cult of violence.

    Bloody Sunday is certainly a somewhat unique incident in that it was a massacre of unarmed civil rights protestors in front of the media of the Western world. The images were broadcast throughout the world and shocked those in America, Europe, and British (in a way that a similar incident in Malaysia or Africa would not). Afterwards, the British state declared the innocent victims to be terrorists and gunmen, and awarded medals to the soldiers who did the killing and the officers who directed them. For 40 years the British state stuck by its story that the innocent killed were criminals and terrorists; that is what drove the marchers as much as any other injustice.

    I don’t recall the British state, or any other, ever defending the IRA (or UVF, etc) and giving them medals after they killed innocent men and women. Quite the contrary, the British state would hunt down the killers and lock them up. They were considered and designated a terrorist organization by just about every country.

  • joeCanuck

    People shouldn’t adopt entrenched positions on this. I imagine that most people who have marched in the past have done so because they don’t want the awful murders of innocent people ever to be forgotten rather than doing so out of a sense of societal obligation to the relatives of the murdered and the injured survivors. There is no right or wrong. So long as someone takes responsibility to make the arrangements, some people will continue to march; others who think that the modicum of Justice is sufficient to draw a line will no longer march. I suspect that the former will outnumber the latter but this is simply a guess.

  • HeinzGuderian

    In the interests of *truth and reconciliation*,maybe serial marcher,and part time chuckle bro,Marty of Innocence,could shed some light on Claudy……….or how about BLOODY FRIDAY ?

    The simple fact remains………Marty of Innocence was making tea for his Ma at the time………….;-)

  • Reader

    Brian: I don’t understand your hostility towards Christy. He is completely reasonable and not exactly a Republican cheerleader.
    Unionists or whomever can have any commemoration they want for their innocent dead at the hands of Republican paramilitaries.

    It was his his casual assumption that commemoration would automatically be partitioned by the political beliefs of the victims that shook me.
    Note that he hasn’t made the next step – partitioning commemorations by perpetrator – that both you and fordprefect seem to think he meant. In fact, he still hasn’t made it entirely clear what boxes in the victim/perpetrator matrix he would be willing to commemorate. Nationalist civilian victims of the IRA? It’s as though they don’t exist!

  • Reader you say “Note that he hasn’t made the next step – partitioning commemorations by perpetrator – that both you and fordprefect seem to think he meant.” So why don’t you tell us what I meant? I mean you have been so absolute about me and making all sort of attributes –then you go and spoil it all by saying something silly like “he still hasn’t made it entirely clear”. And you had been so clear up until now… What is clear is that you are wrong and have been wrong and trying to back peddle.

  • Reader

    Christy Walsh: So why don’t you tell us what I meant?
    I based my perception on this bit: The march in many ways provided oppurtunity for the Nationalist community (and further afield) to express their support and solidarity with the Families because the killings were an attack on the whole Nationalist community.
    And indeed, any time you did open up the window even the teeniest bit by saying ‘people’, you followed up with mention of the Nationalist Community – closing the window again.

  • Reader the Blogg specifies Bloody Sunday and that was uppermost in my thinking –however as I made clear I had no judgment to make on whether or not they marched or did not march and it was a decision for the organisors to which I am not a party. I refered to British (mindful that your assumption is that use of that term excludes unionists) anyway I refered British marches –which there should be little or no doubt from you that I am not involved in those either. However I did specifically state on British(Unionist) marches “I would not for one minute insult people for remembering their war dead past or present as they see appropriate”.

    Now from here forth I need you not make your assumptions but think logically;

    1) war dead includes innocents you stated an assumption that I had only meant combatants.
    2) Re; Nationalist marches –I have no input or judgment to make on how they should remember the dead.
    3) Re; British marches —I have no input or judgment to make on how they should remember the dead.

    So logically if the two were to come together to jointly remeber their dead —I have no input or judgment to make on how they should remember the dead.

    So on no occassion in any one of your numerous posts had you made any correct assumptions about me. This is the best bit, its your own quote from that other blogg …“It’s surprising how many people have assumptions so well hidden they don’t even realise it.” Enjoy!!