Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness has told British Prime Minister Gordon Brown that further delays in publishing the Bloody Sunday report are unacceptable.
The mammoth dossier from the Saville inquiry, launched in 1998, was made available to British government officials and military intelligence (MI5) agents on Wednesday as Mr McGuinness and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams met Mr Brown in London.
Thirteen people died after paratroopers opened fire during a civil rights march in Derry in January 1972. Another man died or his injuries some time later.
The British government has long insisted that report be checked for material that could “threaten state security”. MI5 has requested that it not be released to the public until after the upcoming British general election.
“The imminent announcement of a British general election should not be used by the British government as an excuse to delay the publication of the Saville report,” Mr McGuinness said.
“The families have already faced years of frustration in seeking the truth.”
One of the families have warned they may withdraw from the inquiry process over the handling of the publication of the report.
The family of William Nash, who was shot dead, and his father Alex, who was shot and injured, are furious at plans to keep the report under wraps until after a new British government is formed.
Kate Nash said her family were now discussing whether or not to engage with the process. The family are also unhappy with plans to restrict initial access to the re port to one person per victim’s family.
John Kelly, whose brother Michael was also shot dead, said all of the Bloody Sunday families are “furious” although most are still willing to await the report.
He added that the British decision was unlikely to change.
“We have to make the best of a bad deal,” he said. But Mr Kelly said he would notaccept the limitation on the families’ access.
“This is our report, the families’ report. This is about Michael’s name being cleared,” he said.
Former SDLP leader Mark Durkan said Mr Woodward’s statement raised questions about the date of publication. The Foyle MP said the Bloody Sunday families still resented and rejected the “idea that British government officials should have a prior, long access to the report as opposed to the few hours being accorded to them”.
Meanwhile, leading human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce has praised the Bloody Sunday families for “forcing” the state to hold another inquiry into the 1972 massacre.
Ms Peirce, who was involved in exposing the miscarriages of justice in the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four cases, made the comment as she delivered the annual Bloody Sunday lecture in the Guildhall on Saturday night.
Several relatives of those killed on Bloody Sunday and a number of the wounded were in the audience. The Mayor of Derry, Councillor Paul Fleming, and Sinn Fein MLAs Martina Anderson and Raymond McCartney were also in attendance.
Ms Peirce said: “During the past ten years, what you the families have achieved, regardless of what the ultimate report says, in forcing the state which committed the crime of murder and to comply with its obligations in international and domestic law is incredible.
“By your stamina, by stoicism, and by absolute moral integrity, you forced the state to comply belatedly with its obligations under Article Two of the United Nations Charter on Human Rights to conduct a proper investigation into why life was unlawfully taken.”
The prominent human rights lawyer also spoke of Britain’s “obsessive culture of secrecy” and said the events of Bloody Sunday were never meant to be scrutinised.
“In the crime that the state committed they did not achieve national security; it fuelled conflict. We failed to learn the lessons of that. We have not learned the lesson that injustice fuels reaction,” she said.
Ms Peirce also said she hopes the Saville Report will satisfy the families’ demands.
“What you have done and made us face up to is extraordinary and if we don’t learn the lessons you have so unselfishlessly given us then we are not only undeserving, but we are in a dangerous area. I hope that what you will get in the next week or two weeks somehow reflects what you would wish to be the record of such serious crime and injustice,” she said.