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5 February 2004 Edition

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Thousands defy weather to mark Bloody Sunday

BY FERN LANE

It is a measure of the impact of Bloody Sunday on both a local and global scale that on a windy, rain-lashed February afternoon, 32 years after the event, thousands of people were still willing to turn out to remember the massacre of 14 innocent people by the British Army.

By the time they reached Free Derry Corner, having marched the four miles from Creggan, many of the marchers were literally dripping wet but, undeterred, they stayed to listen to the speakers. The first of these was Catherine Lyons, sister of Bloody Sunday victim William Nash, who revealed the anxiety of the families about the outcome of the Saville Inquiry.

"After more than 400 days of hearing and 900 witnesses, we can begin to see the end of this latest stage in the search for the truth about Bloody Sunday," she said. "We have to say the latest stage because we cannot be certain the search is over.

"People who do not want the truth to come out make a hullaballo about the length and cost of the inquiry. They ask; why an inquiry into Bloody Sunday and not into Bloody Friday or Eniskillen? The most obvious thing about Bloody Sunday is that it was perpetrated by the state, by the guardians of law and order and that creates a necessity for the state to be made accountable. The inquiry is merely a mechanism for achieving this.

"The people who complain about the inquiry should bear in mind that if Widgery had done his job properly, if he had been a honest man and not a politically motivated liar, there would have been no need for a single day's hearings or a penny paid out for another inquiry. That is aside from the point that you can't put a price on truth and justice anyway."

"Will Saville provide closure? All we can do is wait and see," she said. "He has paid great attention to detail, but some of the signs are not good." In particular, she added, the obsessive interest in parts of the media in the shots fired by the Official IRA on the day — acknowledged by all the parties to have played no part in the way the day developed — "creates an impression that there were two sides in it on Bloody Sunday, and that people were killed or wounded in the crossfire. This is totally untrue, but you have to wonder whether Saville's final report will spell this out."

Also on the platform was Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald, who told the rally that it was time for the British Government to correct the "lies and half-truths" about Bloody Sunday.

"Thirty two years after the Bloody Sunday murders, the failure of successive British administrations, both Tory and Labour, to acknowledge the part played by their military on that day, has left an open wound on the psyche of nationalists and republicans on this island and left the relatives of those killed unable to bring this painful chapter to a close.

"Bloody Sunday and its aftermath was the first time in our recent history that we were able to clearly see the culture of concealment which operates within the British establishment. Within minutes of the first shots being fired by the Paras, the lies and the half-truths began to emerge. Nail bombs began to be planted on the dead and injured. In London, Downing Street was meeting to discuss the cover up, Widgery was enlisted and the plan was put into place. As far as the British Military was concerned, the job was done."

The difficulty for the British Government, she continued, was if the truth of Bloody Sunday were to be revealed it would reveal its claims to be honest broker in Ireland to be a mockery. "The same must also be said about the truth relating to the many other killings, which the British state either carried out directly or through its surrogates in the unionist militias.

"Since the Bloody Sunday murders, through shoot-to-kill and loyalist murder gangs in the 1980s and 1990s, the British were content to hide behind the old lie that allegations of collusion were little more than republican propaganda. With the ending of censorship the new line became that bad apples may have been involved, but that collusion was not sanctioned at any level.

"I believe that Tony Blair in his own heart knows what has to be done. I think he knows that he has not delivered, that he hasn't faced down the military establishment, that he hasn't faced down those who still pursue a war agenda in Ireland. Will he ever do this? That is a question only Mr Blair can answer.

"Will he publish Cory and act upon it? Will he face the relatives of those killed by British state sanctioned murder? Will he order his military mandarins to co-operate with the Tribunal in the Guildhall?

"I would predict that his answers to these questions will say a lot about what direction the entire Peace Process takes in the weeks and months ahead."

Ulster Unionist defector speaks at Bloody Sunday event

UUP defector Arlene Foster took part in a panel discussion on Saturday evening 31 January with former Sinn Féin Director of Publicity Danny Morrison.

The discussion, titled The Truth about Truth Commission, was organised by the Pat Finucane Centre as part of the Bloody Sunday Calender of events and was held in the Calgach Centre.

Reetha Hassan, representing an Armagh-based victims group, and Brandon Hamber from South Africa, who was involved in that country's Truth Commission, also took part.

While all the panellists agreed that some form of process would need to be established to allow people to find out the reason why their relatives died, the reality of the discussion was that each participant had differing views of the nature of the conflict and therefore what a truth commission would entail.

For Arlene Foster, now a member of the DUP, there was the clear view that not all victims were equal, a view based on the unionist analysis of the conflict that sees republicans as the most culpable group involved.

Danny Morrison, however, asked the audience to consider how 50 years of unionist misrule created the conditions for the conflict.

Scottish parade banned

North Lanarkshire Council voted to ban a Bloody Sunday commemoration march due to be held in Scotland on Saturday 31 January, citing "public safety grounds" as their excuse.

The parade had been planned for Wishaw, 12 miles from Glasgow. It is believed the council was fearful that loyalists may have been planning a counter demonstration.

A spokesperson for the march organisers said"it is totally unacceptable that our community is denied rights because of threats".

John Kelly, whose brother Michael was killed on Bloody Sunday, described the decision as ludicrous.

"This ban has been imposed despite the fact that all other marches in the past have been peaceful. The only threat of trouble came from those who were objecting to the march," he said. "This is a march for civil rights and to commemorate those who were killed on Bloody Sunday. In those circumstances the ban is scandalous."

A man of integrity

A few months short of his 80th birthday, Tony Benn can still pack them in, as he did at the Derry Calgach Centre, where he was speaking as part of the Bloody Sunday commemorative weekend.

His popularity has remained undimmed even after his retirement from the House of Commons, a decision taken, he told his audience on Friday night, in order to allow him to "devote more time to politics". Perhaps most unusually for a politician, he has attracted admiration from not just his political allies but also from his bitterest political enemies. Even they acknowledge his integrity and the way in which he has resolutely held on to his ideals and the way, probably uniquely for a British Member of Parliament, he has — as he put it himself — never said anything he didn't believe just to further his ambitions.

In an entertaining and often amusing lecture, Benn spoke about a wide range of topics, Ireland of course, but also the nature of power and its abuse, about Iraq and about his long and varied experience of government.

On the question of the North of Ireland, he told the audience he was firmly of the opinion that "there is not an Irish problem in the UK; there is a British problem in Ireland" and recalled how he had once brought a bill before the British parliament to 'Terminate the Jurisdiction of Britain in Ireland on 31st December 1999'. Sadly, the bill did not make it onto the stathich helped them to maintain their power."

He went on to say that the Good Friday Agreement and the popular feeling which followed had "transformed Ireland". The attempts by the DUP to renegotiate the agreement had to be resisted. "This idea that you can go back to scratch is not on," he said.

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