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4 February 1999 Edition

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Remembering state violence

Bloody Sunday 1972-1999

`State the Truth' was both the theme for the 1999 Bloody Sunday commemoration programme and the demand made of the British authorities as victims of state violence were remembered last weekend in Derry. Reports by Fern Lane.

The atmosphere up at the Creggan shops on the cold, damp January day in 1972 where people had assembled for what began as a march to demand human rights but which would end up as a massacre a few hours later, must have been similar in many respects to that at the gathering which took place in the same spot 27 years later to commemorate those who were killed and injured at the hands of the British state.

The same cold, damp weather, the same sense of anticipation mingled with adventure. And, most importantly, many of the same people; the families of those who were killed - still fighting for the truth to be told and justice to be done.

That something like 20,000 people from Derry and around the world turned out on Sunday 31 January 1999 to support them suggests a degree on cynicism at British assurances made two years ago that the new Saville inquiry would be thorough and fair. Despite the promises, the struggle is far from over.

Earlier on Sunday morning, the families of the dead, together with Martin McGuinness, Martin Ferris and Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn gathered at the Bloody Sunday memorial to hear mass, at which Reverend Stephen Kingsnorth, a methodist minister from the Warrington Reconcilliation Group gave a reading, and to lay wreaths in memory of those who were lost.

The march traced, as it always does, the steps of the original march from Creggan, winding down to the Bogside, growing in number on the way down as people joined along the route. The atmosphere down there was as happy as it had been up at the Creggan - in stark contrast to the utter incomprehension and desolation which pervaded the area at the same time in 1972.

It was the culmination of a weekend of commemoration, political debate, workshop and drama which explored the theme of state violence and in particular the way in which the newly politically-loaded term `victim' has been decreed by the Northern Ireland Office to mean those killed or injured by the IRA but not anyone else, and most certainly not by the army or any other agents of the state.

As the demonstration reached the Bogside a newly painted mural commemorating the dead was unveiled before people moved on to Free Derry Corner to stand in absolute silence as the name and age of each of the dead was read out.

Delivering the main address was Sinn Fein's Martin Ferris, who spoke of his pride at being invited to address the gathering. He also spoke of the difficulties being created in the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, pouring scorn on the supposed weakness of David Trimble within his own party. He said; ``David Trimble is the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, the first minister designate and he can, if he wishes, secure the support of two thirds of the total membership of the assembly across all of the parties. He is not, as he would portray, in a position of weakness.''

Tony Doherty, whose father Patrick was killed, spoke passionately about the ``sliding scale of victimhood - with nationalists at the bottom.''

Alice O'Brien, who lost her 21 year old sister, brother-in-law and two baby nieces in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974, talked of the inspiration that the Bloody Sunday relatives offered her and other bereaved families in their own search for justice. She also commented that the bombs, which constitute the worst atrocity in the 30 years of conflict had been consistently ignored by the media which constantly referred to Omagh as bearing that dubious distinction (this was evidenced on Monday when her presence at the march was almost entirely ignored by the Irish and British media).

Breandan MacCionnaith, leader of the Garvaghy Road residents, told marchers that Derry provided a potent symbol for all nationalists. ``Unionism tried to break nationalism in Derry on Bloody Sunday but it failed. Now the Orange Order is trying to break nationalism in small areas like Garvaghy Road, Bellaghy and Lower Ormeau,'' he said. But he appealed to nationalists; ``I beg of you, don't let us down and, more importantly, don't let politicians on either side of the border or of the Irish Sea let us down for the sake of short-term political expediency.''


Relatives struggle for justice and recognition

In Pilot's Row Community Centre a carefully assembled photograph montage of some of those killed by the State, from priests to small, chubby-faced children and from IRA volunteers to young girls, attracted thousands of visitors - many of whom stared intently at each of the faces in turn as they smiled back out from treasured family photographs and mass cards.

As someone commented, it reminded one of the photographs of the `disappeared' victims of the Chilean and Argentinian military dictatorships. And although there were hundreds of photographs, each with immeasurable grief attached to it, one of the organisers told visitors that it represented, at most, around half of the victims of state violence. A decision had been made to use photogaphs only in those cases where the families concerned had been contacted and had given their permission.

During a meeting on Saturday afternoon at which the families of victims of state violence discussed the best way to move their campaigns for justice forward, Roisín Kelly whose brother Patrick was killed by the SAS at Loughgall was deeply critical of Security Minister Adam Ingram after their meeting last week. Her meeting with him seems to have confirmed what many nationalists already know through bitter experience: that the British state assumes for itself the right to bestow or withhold the status of `victim' according to its political aims and that the hierarchy of death has effectively been institutionalised by the Northern Ireland Office. Ingram told Rosin Kelly, to her obvious distress, that the loss of her brother to his family was not comparable to the loss of the Omagh victims to theirs.

The subject of state violence was discussed further on Saturday evening when a panel of guests gathered in Pilot's Row to speak about the consequences of state violence. Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn - who had flown straight in from the London Bloody Sunday March - talked amongst other things of his role in the efforts to ensure General Pinochet is brought to justice for crimes against humanity.

Alice O'Brien and Derek Byrne of the Dublin/Monaghan Campaign both spoke of the difficulties they have faced in just getting their campaign off the ground and of the indifference, even hostility, shown by successive Irish governments when responding to requests to reinvestigate the atrocity.

Derek Byrne also described the horrific injuries he suffered as a result of the bombing; he was so badly hurt that he was prounounced dead on his arrival at hospital, regaining consciousness some time later in the hospital morgue.

The reverend Stephen Kingsnorth, a Methodist minister from the Warrington Reconcilliation Group spoke of the different ``versions of history'' to which he as an Englishman, a Methodist, and as the husband of an Irish Protestant had been subjected. He talked of a personal sense of guilt when he considered the role of England in Ireland throughout history and told his audience that the week he had spent in Derry shortly after the Warrington bomb was ``the best time of my life''. After a question and answer session, he commented that he had his eyes opened ``yet again'' by what he had heard during the course of the discussion.


Ruling threatens Bloody Sunday Inquiry

The future of the Saville inquiry into Bloody Sunday looks uncertain after the High Court in London granted four soldiers who took part in the attack leave to appeal against the partial removal of anonymity on Monday 1 February. The ruling was made without informing relatives of those murdered after Mr Justice Collins also ruled that it was not necessary to let them know. The news was passed on to the solicitors representing the families by Lord Saville.

The four soldiers concerned, known hitherto only as Soldiers B, O, U and V, were granted leave by Mr Justice Collins to seek a judicial review of a decision taken by Lord Saville last year which offered them only limited anonymity, permitting the use of their surnames and first names if it was considered sufficiently relevant.

It seems that Lord Saville will allow the judicial review to go to a hearing in London today and solicitors representing the families have sought the right to participate in that hearing.

Greg McCartney, representing the family of Jim Wray, said that ``With an English law lord and two Commonwealth judges, there was an international aspect but now the English judiciary appears to be having a say''. Representatives of the families intend turning up at the high court today ``to demand to be heard.''

McCartney said that his clients may refuse to participate further in the inquiry should Lord Saville's ruling be overturned, saying that it was inconceivable that those responsible for the killing of Jim Wray and others should use the law to conceal their identities. The Wray family initially withdrew from the inquiry shortly after it was established when they learned of the intention to grant total anonymity to soldiers who fired shots on Bloody Sunday. Only when Lord Saville ruled that he would not allow full anonymity did the Wray family agree to co-operate with the inquiry.

Peter Madden, of Madden and Finucane, the firm of solicitors representing a number of the families of the dead, expressed his concern that holding the hearing in London would effectively prevent his clients from attending. He also said he was extremely disappointed that the immediate relatives of the dead were not considered to be sufficiently ``directly involved'' to be informed of Justice Collins' ruling.


Fascists attack Bloody Sunday march

A gang of neo-Nazis attempted to break up a march in London to commemorate Bloody Sunday on Saturday 30 January. Thirty members of the fascist National Front rushed at the march 400 yards from Downing Street, shouting ``No surrender to the IRA'' and anti-Irish abuse.

A tense stand-off ensued, but the incident helped to focus media attention on the marchers, who carried banners calling for the release of political prisoners and the establishment of thetruth about Bloody Sunday.

Earlier a delegation which included Sinn Fein representative Gerry Kelly delivered a letter to Tony Blair calling for the full facts to be uncovered. The letter, from the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign, said: ``The setting up of the Saville Inquiry last year represents a significant advance in the pursuit of truth and justice. ``It needs to be stressed that Bloody Sunday will only be resolved if the whole truth about the events of that day are uncovered.''

Mr Blair was also urged to show equal respect for all victims of violence of the past thirty years of Anglo-Irish conflict.

After the march, a rally was addressed by Mr Kelly, Diane Hamill - whose brother Robert died after RUC men allowed him to be attacked by loyalists in Portadown last year - and by Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn.


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