Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bloody Sunday

Thirty eight years on, the Saville Report has been published about the events that took place in Londonderry in 1972. It exonerates the Civil Rights movement and blames the 1st Parachute Regiment, who clearly lied about what had happened. Bloody Sunday was a catalyst for the violence that followed in Northern Ireland, but it was not the start of the violence. Soldiers and civilians had already been killed. Many more were to die. More British soldiers were killed in the Northern Ireland troubles that the combined death rate in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The underlying problem was centuries old and probably goes back to the Romans who settled in the area around Dublin and built a fence (pale) around their settlement. Everything outside was 'beyond the pale'. Throughout history English rulers sought to subject Ireland to their hegemony with varying success. The summation of their efforts has not been glorious. The conflict induced by the Earl of Essex and Cromwell in the sixteenth and seventeenth Centuries, the conquest by King Billy at the end of the seventeenth Century, the potato famine and mass emigration can all be held to England's account. The reaction of the Irish has been nothing to be proud of. The support for Hitler by De Valera, the murder of Michael Collins, the priest-ridden society that admitted oppression of unmarried mothers and the abuse of children should all give shame.

The troubles started as a result of partition - what other solution was possible? In the North, the more freely-breeding Catholics were increasing in numbers but were second-class citizens. The Civil Rights movement wanted just that - civil rights, but young, hot-headed men knew their history. It was a time of violent uprising in many parts of the world. Weapons were easy to come by. A revolution fought with guerrilla tactics was on the cards.

A few days after the Bloody Sunday killings the IRA blew up a building in Aldershot, where the 1st Parachute Regiment was based. Seven people were killed and 19 injured. The dead included a Catholic priest, an elderly gardener and several cleaning ladies. My father had been in the building less than half an hour before. In November 1972 Noel Jenkinson was convicted of the murders and received a lengthy jail term, dying in prison of heart failure four years later. Afterwards a protracted bombing campaign began in England and many atrocities were committed.

One hopes that the Saville enquiry draws a line under the whole sorry mess. The civil rights that the original movement demanded have been granted. There is permanent power sharing between the Protestants and Catholic politicians. Murderers on both sides have been pardoned. Although two soldiers from the Parachute Regiment who took part in the undisciplined killings in Derry remain alive, little would be gained in prosecuting them; it is doubtful that they could have a fair trial and be convicted beyond reasonable doubt. With so many pardoned for worse crimes, what would be served by pursuing them?

It is the job of the majority to accomodate teh wounds of the minority, and Davic Cameron's statesmanlike comments in Parliament have done this. Time for it to end now.

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