Many people are approaching the 29th anniversary of Bloody Sunday with mixed emotions. The past year has seen the disclosure of enough evidence to ensure that the Widgery whitewash will never again be used to justify the murderous assault by the British army on the people of Derry. But not enough has been done to satisfy many, in Derry and beyond, that this Inquiry will be able to hold all those responsible for Bloody Sunday to account.
A number of issues are causing concern as to the ability of the Inquiry to deliver on the open and accountable investigation that was promised in 1998:
The refusal of the British Ministry of Defence to be represented at the Inquiry;
The destruction of evidence;
The issuing of anonymity and Public Interest Immunity Certificates;
The ridiculous claim that the people of Derry have been concealing the deaths and wounding of 34 of their friends, neighbours and families during the past 29 years;
The attempts to shift responsibility for events in Derry away from the British Army and their political masters.
The Ministry of Defence appeared before the Tribunal on Monday of this week to defend assertions by counsel for the families and wounded that it should be legally represented and accountable for its actions. Ian Burnett QC, counsel for the MoD, made the ludicrous assertion that ``the MoD of today has no case to put to, or to advance before this Tribunal, nor does it have a position to defend''.
He stated that the Mod had arranged for soldiers to be legally represented and had provided five full-time civil servants to staff a special Bloody Sunday Inquiry unit in Derry, which was there to assist the Inquiry. This was deemed sufficient, he avowed.
Burnett admitted that because of ``normal administrative processes'' the majority of documentary material concerning the period of Bloody Sunday in MoD files had been destroyed. In relation to military photographs and film that was destroyed in 1972 or shortly thereafter, he stated that such items were not categorised as documentary material, and were consequently destroyed ``on the ground that it was of no further use''.
On behalf of the MoD, he expressed ``regret'' that two rifles used on Bloody Sunday had been destroyed in January of last year, which he claimed had happened as a result of a computer glitch.
Prior to Christmas, the Inquiry had heard an application on behalf of Home Secretary Jack Straw and Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon for Public Interest Immunity Certificates to be issued covering the evidence of two security services agents known as ``Observer B'' and ``Infliction.'' At that hearing, Christopher Clark QC, Counsel to the Inquiry, stated that it may be that the British Parliament would have to ``square the circle'' if the Tribunal demanded full disclosure of the material on the grounds that there could not be a full open investigation without it, effectively allowing parliament to halt proceedings.
This week, the Inquiry heard that former MI5 officer David Shayler, writing in the Observer, had cast doubt over the reliability of Infliction's evidence, stating that MI5 had concluded he was not to be trusted.
Lord Saville, Chairman of the Tribunal, stated that these matters were being investigated by the Inquiry and that a ruling on Public Interest Immunity Certificates was now likely to be delayed a week or two at least.
The atmosphere surrounding the Inquiry in the city is currently very tense. The feeling is that each of these issues, taken individually, is a cause for concern, but when taken together, they may threaten the ability of the Inquiry to contribute to a just resolution of Bloody Sunday. It is certainly viewed as unacceptable for the British government to stand aside as a government department actively subverts the search for truth.
The establishment of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry was a political decision only arrived at after a long and arduous struggle. The attempts to subvert it are no less political. As the Inquiry undertakes its work over the next year, it is vital that the people of Derry, and further afield, ensure that there is no attempt by the Inquiry or anyone else, to rerun Widgery.