"On the Road to Peace"
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Sunday Bloody Sunday
|There are few people outside of Ireland today who can remember more about Bloody Sunday than the single fact that on January 30, 1972 the British army of Occupation shot and killed 13 civil rights marchers in Derry’s Bogside district. But if Bloody Sunday is to be understood as well as remembered the details and the context are important. What follows covers the political events up to Bloody Sunday, the planning and the execution of the atrocity, as well as the press and government cover-up afterwards.
No event in history can be understood unless we seek out the root cause and track the chain of events leading up to it. With Sharpesville, My Lai and other names associated with the slaughter of innocents, Bogside was to join a long list of massacres executed by a ruling elite incapable of granting the fundamental demands of a politically active population.
The reason why our blood spattered our pavements and barricades on January 30, 1972 was because the nationalist minority within the Six-County statelet had been denied their basic human rights since the creation of Stormont in 1921, which in turn had its roots in the fact that our country had been subjected to eight hundred years of imperialist interference.
It was but a few years before when that same minority, believing in reformist activities, took to the streets to demand equality in votes, jobs and housing. Such marches, while initially meeting with massive world-wide sympathy, were at home viciously batoned off the streets by the strong-arm methods of the unionist police force, the RUC.
The right-wing elements led by Paisley and encouraged by Craig of ‘shoot-to-kill’ fame (in 1978 paradoxically a Human Rights Commissioner in Strasbourg) were given a free hand and on many occasions actually joined the police in trying to beat the protest movement off the streets.
In the months that followed the first serious baton charge against civil rights marchers on October 5, 1968 in Derry the RUC and loyalist thugs endeavoured to smash the resistance in what became known as the Battle of the Bogside and the Falls. After the armed police were driven back, mainly by stones and petrol bombs, the British government sent in the troops to "aid the civil authority" viz the Stormont junta and its sectarian police force.
Sporadic rioting continued, but by the early summer of 1971 the British garrison was content at the ‘progress’ being made. The hated RUC were once again on the hoof in almost all areas and the British army of Occupation was in little evidence.
By the beginning of July however a number of incidents had changed the local scene very dramatically. The youth were again on the streets resisting the powers-that-be and a former quiescent Irish Republican Army was now in open armed opposition, and steadily growing in numbers and political influence . In the early morning of July 8 the British army shot dead Séamus Cusack of Creggan.
Later in the day soldiers shot and killed another nationalist youth, Desmond Beattie. Both were unarmed, shot intentionally by the Occupation Forces and their murders, viewed by many eye-witnesses in Derry, caused a major outcry. Even the tame collaborators within the Social, Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) were by July 11 forced by popular demand to withdraw from the sham ‘parliament’. The SDLP leader John Hume talked at the time of establishing "an alternative assembly".
In August 1971 the Stormont junta introduced its most repressive of weapons – internment without charge or trial. Internment had been used in the 20s, the 30s, the 40s, the 50s and phased out in the 60s and was adopted yet again in the 70s rather than concede the basic demands of the nationalist population.
Unlike more subtle regimes Stormont had not learnt the old methods do not always prove effective in new and changing situations. Immediately, on the introduction of internment, Stormont’s prime minister Brian Faulkner declared a 12-month ban on all demonstrations.
The majority of the leaders of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) showed a great reluctance to take to the streets and were thus rejected by the nationalist masses who created the Northern Resistance Movement (NRM) organised a whole array of protests, including a rent and rates strike which soon attracted the support of some 400, 000 households.
Internment had a unifying effect on the whole nationalist community. The first few weeks following August 9 showed that rather than end political dissent internment actually exacerbated the situation with 35 people having died as a result.
Towards the first weeks of October the rent and rates strike grew to include non-payment of TV, radio, car and dog licences, road tax, ground rent, electricity and gas, rates and even hire purchase. Local government virtually ground to a standstill in many areas due to outstanding revenue. Many professional and civic figures withdrew from various public boards.
As reports of torture in the interrogation centres, jails, camps and on the prison ship Maidstone increased, the many-sided protest became even more determined and active. By the end of December a group of trade unionists from different parts of the Six Occupied Counties, in conjunction with the People’s Democracy (a mainly student body), planned to defy the ban on public demonstrations.
This combined vanguard led some 4,000 demonstrators on Christmas Day along the snow-drifted roads from Belfast to Long Kesh Concentration Camp, a journey of some ten miles. The British army had been outflanked and all their preparations to stop the march proved abortive.
The marchers had managed to alert an unsuspecting world to the on-going torture. There was a sense of jubilation in the nationalist ghettos all over the Six Counties and the marching season had well and truly begun. British law had been flouted and made to look like an ass and the barricades remained intact, holding out the British Crown Forces and their bigoted RUC allies. Inside those barricades people set up their own co-ops, peoples’ taxis, newspapers, local government, policing, radio stations, an independent postal service as well as other civic essentials of popular administration.
The British military and political elite saw all those activities as ‘an affront to established ideas of good order’. On January 28, 1972 the British Cabinet’s Defence and Overseas Committee met, subsequent to a meeting of the ‘inner cabinet’.
Both august gatherings were hardly discussing mere arrests by the use of snatch-squad operations, yet these provided some idea of what might follow. Both the Provisional and Official IRA instructed all units to dump arms so that there would be no incident on January 30 which might provide the British with an excuse to fire, especially when upwards of 30,000 people were expected to join the planned demonstration. A jovial march eventually moved off from Creggan that was to end in a river of blood, with 13 dead and 17 seriously wounded.
The winter of 1971-72 was the aftermath of the introduction of internment. To survive politically Faulkner had to do something drastic about the anti-internment cum anti-torture marches or be outflanked by his own right-wing William Craig, the Minister of Home Affairs who gave the order to attack on October 5, 1968, was stomping the countryside building up his Vanguard Movement at mass, often semi-fascist, rallies.
By January Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) was threatening that unless "firm action was taken against Catholic lawlessness" his party too would begin to defy the law. The march called by the Civil Rights Association for Derry on January 30 heightened the sense of urgency for both Faulkner and the British cabinet.
Faulkner held talks with British army General Tuzo on January 26, the next day he flew to London for private talks with British prime minister Ted Heath. By January 28 he had a public commitment from the British army and the RUC that they would take ‘action’ – as yet unspecified – against illegal marchers and on January 29 Paisley (after ‘briefings’) called off the DUP’s planned counter demonstration in Derry. A smiling Paisley told journalists that he had received assurances that "the Civil Rights march will be halted by force if necessary."
The chosen instrument was the First Battalion of the Parachute Regiment under the command of Colonel Derek Wilford. He was later to receive an OBE from England’s Queen Elizabeth II for his work on that day. One of her sons, Prince Charles, the heir to the English throne, was appointed the Paras’ royal commander-in-chief.
The British army allowed the march to leave the working class Creggan Estate but prevented it from marching to the Guildhall Square by using stationary vehicles or positioning other smaller barricades in front of such. To avoid a confrontation the organisers diverted the Civil Rights march into Rossville Street with the intention of holding their mass meeting at Free Derry Corner, some 500 yards from the British barriers.
While Bernadette Devlin (then a Mid Ulster MP), Lord Brockway and others prepared to address the meeting a small number of marchers stayed behind at the army barriers protesting against not being allowed to march on. Stones were thrown and the British army fired CS gas and brought up water cannon to disperse the crowd. Later TV film would show a deserted William Street, as their ‘move-in’ order was carried out.
At 4.15pm that small crowd of stragglers were already on the move as they were forced to escape the discomfort of CS gas and the strong pressure-hoses of the water cannon. The majority were walking towards the mass meeting. Those to the rear began to flee as they observed the Paratroopers advancing from their previous positions at the old City Picture house on William Street. Within seconds 3 companies of the Parachute Regiment were sweeping along Chamberlain Street and into the High Flats complex at Rosville Street. Some came on foot while others were in armoured cars.
They were hastily deployed into firing positions and almost immediately opened up on the unarmed crowd. The fleeing stragglers were heading towards the rally platform as sharp cracks, unlike the dull blast of the rubber or plastic bullet guns echoed all around them.
The British army version of events – as given in an official statement in the House of Commons by the Minister of Defence – could only be described as a tangle of lies. They claimed they opened fire after coming under attack from nail bombers and a "fusillade of fire of 50-80 shots from the area of Rossville and Glenfadda flats".
No independent witness from among the scores of journalists and other observers – who included many high-profile anti-Republicans eg columnists, SDLP officials and clergy – accepted this contention. The latter category would have been only too delighted to drive a wedge between both wings of the IRA and the nationalist population they served if they had been offered even the slightest excuse to do so.
However the British army could not produce any bullet or bomb fragments and spent little time in such a search for they already knew that such did not exist anyway. The Brits endeavoured to claim that "in all cases soldiers fired aimed shots at men identified as gunmen and bombers". Forensic tests failed to link those killed with any weapons and needless to say no weapons were found on those killed, no charges were brought against those wounded.
The Brits said some of those shot were on their wanted list, this was later disproved. They claimed they shot three snipers in the High Flats but all the causalities were at ground level.
No definitive version of what happened can yet be written. Some people argue that the massacre was a result of a British army plan to draw out, either or both wings of the IRA and ambush them. Others say the British army went berserk – though it is inconceivable that rigidly disciplined paratroopers would lose their heads at the sight of an unarmed crowd running away from them
The British army’s story has virtually no supporters outside the military establishment itself. But perhaps in the last analysis speculation is not necessary. One point stands out incontrovertibly. The Bogside massacre was consistent with the entire role of the British army since internment – to terrorise and break the resistance of the minority community and to placate the growing strength of the loyalist far right.
After Bloody Sunday and protests from around the world the British government set up a Tribunal of Inquiry. Misnamed for it consisted of only one man, former army officer Lord Widgery. Although his report was a whitewash and full of contradictions it nevertheless contained some criticisms of the paratroopers. But the British public was never to hear these criticisms because of the way the Ministry of Defence handled the press and the way the press, almost without exception, played along.
Simon Winchester, a Guardian journalist present on Bloody Sunday who had personally narrowly escaped the Para bullets, writes in his book In Holy Terror. "Widgery’s conclusion were at astonishing variance with his own report, and the manner of the ‘leaking’ of the document itself was an appalling travesty of honesty, for which the British government should feel ashamed".
In spite of his own experience, which claimed among other things, that only 4 of the 13 dead had any possible connection with weapons and that large numbers of unaccounted-for-rounds and unjustifiable dangerous shots were fired by the Paras, Widgery concluded by exonerating the British Occupation Forces.
"There is no clear reason to suppose that the soldiers would have opened fire if they had not been fired upon first. Soldiers who identified armed gunmen fired upon them in accordance with the standing orders in the yellow card. There was no general breakdown in discipline".
Simon Winchester describes what happened when the report was completed. "The report itself was to be issued on the afternoon of April 19. In fact the astute press officers of the Ministry Of Defence telephoned the defence correspondence of the national newspapers the night before to ‘leak’ in highly selective terms, Widgery’s conclusions to be published the next day.
No mention was made in the leak of any underestimate of the dangers (involved in launching the Paras’ operation) of any army gunfire that ‘bordered on the reckless’ as Widgery remarked in conclusion number 8. Those who read their front pages on Wednesday morning would have had to have been very short-sighted indeed to have missed the results of the PR work.
"Widgery Clears Army!" they shrieked in near unison: and a relieved British public read no more – Bloody Sunday, thanks to the propaganda merchants and a half a dozen lazy hacks, was now a closed book with the Irish fully to blame.
This article came from somewhere (sorry, that is the best I can do for I found it in my files). Whoever wrote it deserves the recognition, if he or she wants it, for the work they did in writing this article. I will search the scores of sites I have about Ireland to try to locate a site, or author, to be posted here. If someone recognizes this article, please let me know.