18 Dec Sunday, Bloody Sunday (part 2)
In Part 1Â we gave an overview of what happened in the years preceding the events of Bloody Sunday. In January 1972 Londonderry was a troubled city with a divided society in a troubled and divided country. The divisions between nationalists (predominantly Roman Catholics who wanted Northern Ireland to unite with the Republic of Ireland) and unionists (Protestants who wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK) were deep and had led to many violent clashes between the two communities and with the police in the previous years. The action ofÂ paramilitary organizations of both sides, riots and violence dominated the city and turned some parts of it into ruins. A large part of the nationalist regions was a no-go area dominated by the IRA, where ordinary policing could not be conducted and even the Army operated only by using a large number of soldiers.
The events of Bloody Sunday
On 30th January 1972 the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association had organized a march to Guildhall Square (outside the city council) to protest against internment without trial of suspected terrorists, a measure introduced in August 1971 which affected mostly the nationalist community and raised allegations (often found to have substance) that those held had been mistreated. The authorities had then decided to allow the march to proceed in the nationalist areas of the city, but to prevent it from reaching Guildhall by erecting barriers on the roads leading to the square. Since the march was expected to be too large for the police to handle, the 1st Battalion of the Parachute RegimentÂ was also put into force. The Para was initially meant to act as an arrest force for rioters.
While the organizers advertised the march to go to Guildhall, at the last moment they decided to follow a different route to avoid clashes with the security forces. Thus, when the march reached the junction of William Street with Rossville Street, it turned right to go along Rossville Street to the Free Derry Corner, instead of continuing straight ahead to the Guildhall Square. Below you can see a map indicating the original and changed routes.
Although the march of the route changed, some groups of people continued along William Street instead of turning right to Rossville street and headed to the Army Barrier 14, where they started throwing stones at soldiers. The soldiers responded with baton rounds, CS gas and water canons, which dispersed the crowd. Following this, one of the companies passed the barrier and proceeded to the crowd in order to arrest rioters.
The arrest operation
The deployed company chased people down to Rossville Street into the Bogside. It seems that no separation between peaceful marchers and rioters wasÂ made. The soldiers disembarked around the Rossville Flats. The civilians, who were there, started to run away as soon as they saw the Army vehicles. Soldiers started arresting and firing over people’s heads. Soon the situation turned into a chaos.
Apart from the Roseville Flats soldiers opened fire also in other spots across Roseville street, namely in Kells Walk and Glenfada Park. The operation ended with 14 civiliansÂ dead, several others injured and a lot of grieving in the Catholic community.
Patrick Joseph Doherty, Gerald Donaghy, John Francis Duddy, Hugh Pius Gilmore, Michael Kelly, Michael McDaid, Kevin McElhinney, Bernard McGuigan, Gerald McKinney, William Anthony McKinney, William Noel Nash, James Joseph Wray, John Pius Young
Michael Bradley, Michael Bridge, Patrick Campbell, Margaret Deery, Damien Donaghy, Joseph Friel, John Johnson, Joseph Mahon, Patrick McDaid, Daniel McGowan, Alexander Nash, Patrick O’Donnell, Michael Quinn
Lord Widgery’s report
Soon after the events of Bloody Sunday a tribunal was appointed to investigate the incident, which led up to this tragic loss of life. Head of the Inquiry, which took place in Coleraine 30 miles far from Derry, was Lord Widgery. In his report Lord WidgeryÂ basically concluded that when soldiers appeared in Rossville Street, they came under attack. In these circumstances they had to place the arrest operation in second place and defend themselves against the assailants. According to Lord Widgery, there was no reason to suppose that the soldiers would have opened fire, if they had not been fired upon first. Although none of the deceased or wounded was proved to have been shot whilst handling a firearm or bomb and some were wholly acquitted of complicity in such action, Lord Widgery concluded that there were serious suspicions that some others had been firing against the soldiers. As a result, Lord Widgery’s report largelyÂ exonerated the soldiers who acted against the crowd.
The report caused a deepÂ dissatisfaction in the Catholic community and was considered by many to be a whitewash. It basically placed the blame on NICRA for having created a highly dangerous situation by organizing an illegal march. Anti-British sentimentÂ ran high throughout the whole island of Ireland. The families and supporters of the victims embarked later on a long campaign for an Independent Inquiry that eventually came to fruition in 1998, when the British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced a fresh public inquiry headed by Lord Saville.
The Saville Inquiry
Oral hearings for the Saville Inquiry commenced in 2000 at Londonderry’s Guildhall. The InquiryÂ finished in 2010 by condemning the soldiers and exonerating the victims, who it saidÂ were not posing any threat of causing death or serious harm. The report concluded that the soldiers lost self-control and none of them fired in response to attacks of nail and petrol bombers. What happened on Bloody Sunday strengthened the Provisional IRA, increased nationalist resentment and hostility towards the Army and exacerbated the violent conflict of the years that followed. Bloody Sunday was a tragedy for the bereaved and the wounded, and a catastrophe for the people of Northern Ireland.
“What happened on Bloody Sunday was unjustified and unjustifiable”
Prime Minister David Cameron publicly apologized for Bloody Sunday with the words “this was unjustified and unjustifiable. The crowd was watching him in a large screen placed in the square in from of Derry’s Guildhall. The Saville report was welcomed as a triumph by the families of the victims.