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7 February 2008 Edition

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The Mitchel McLaughlin Column

The day innocence died

ON 30 January 1972, Derry and the world awakened to a new day just like so many others, but for many families in Derry that day would change their lives forever.
By teatime on that Sunday afternoon, three women would be widowed, 19 children would lose a father, 20 parents would lose a son, 99 siblings would lose a brother, a week later another child would be born never to see his father, and a few months later another woman would lose a husband to the tragic events of that day.
As Derry prepared to bury its loved ones, British embassies around the world attempted to bury the truth by telling the world “the army fired only at identified targets... at attacking gunmen and bombers”.
Following the negative, worldwide outcry, then British Prime Minister Edward Heath appointed his government’s chief justice, Lord Widgery, to carry out an inquiry with the proviso: “We are not just involved in a military war over there; we are involved in a propaganda war too.” And so the vilification of the innocent dead and wounded of Bloody Sunday continued and intensified.
But due to the courage and determination of the families  –  with the support of the people of Derry, Ireland and abroad  – on 29 January 1998, Tony Blair was forced to announce the establishment of a new, independent inquiry into Bloody Sunday.
The Saville Inquiry was established and a new hope reinvigorated the campaign and the families’ resolve to see justice and finally establish the truth of what happened to their loved ones on that fateful day in Derry.
Sunday, 3 February 2008, 36 years on from the murderous assault by the British paratroopers, the people once more came onto the streets in solidarity and to renew their support for whatever course of action the families wish to take when Saville finally publishes his report in a few months’ time.
But the 14 citizens of Derry who were murdered and the 14 wounded were not the only casualties that day 36 years ago. The Civil Rights Association also died that day on the streets of Derry. This was the result of a British and Stormont government mindset that viewed a military response as the only option available to political agitation for civil rights.
I believe that it was the security response taken at the highest level of the British Government that created a whole generation no longer willing to accept the role of subject, of second-class citizen or the right of Britain to interfere in governing any part of our country unopposed.
It is important, therefore, that we should not only be looking at Bloody Sunday in retrospection in this year, the 40th anniversary of the 5 October march. We need to use our collective experiences to create the political structures that will assign to history the circumstances that lead to Bloody Sunday. We need to use those experiences to build a bridge to the future, a bridge to the new ‘Ireland of Equals’ that we are working to create.
We must embrace, encourage and convince those who still have reservations or are totally opposed to our strategy that it is the best approach to a centuries-old problem and that it can and will accommodate diversity of religion, culture, ethnicity and political views. What is required are political solutions to political problems.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1