Victims of Bloody Sunday have expressed outrage at comments by the proposed future Six County Justice Minister David Ford in which he said the Saville inquiry into the killings was “pointless”.
Ford, leader of the small unionist Alliance Party, made the comment in an email to political colleagues in November ahead of a parliamentary question session. He also said there was no point in members of the Westminster parliament tabling questions about the inquiry.
Fourteen people died and dozens injured when British soldiers opened fire on a nationalist civil rights demonstration in Derry in January 1972. The first inquiry into the killings under Lord Widgery was recognised as a whitewash by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Tony Doherty, whose father Patrick was killed on Bloody Sunday said Mr Ford “should be ashamed of himself”.
Liam Wray, whose brother Jim was killed, said he would not meet the Alliance leader following the comments.
He added: “Let me tell Mr Ford that although I am not a great advocate of the inquiry, it certainly was not pointless - it certainly scored points.
“This inquiry exposed quite clearly the fraudulent forensics that damned my brother’s and others’ reputations.”
The furore over Ford’s statement has cast doubt over his suitability for the highly sensitive post of Justice Minister and his capacity to treate northern nationalists with equality.
Sinn Fein Assembly member Raymond McCartney said the “gratuitous” remarks would be received “with disdain by the vast majority of citizens of Derry”.
“David Ford’s ill-advised comments regarding the Saville Inquiry are offensive and hurtful to the Bloody Sunday families who have campaigned with dignified resolve to expose the truth about the murders of their loved ones.”
SDLP MP for Foyle, Mark Durkan accused Mr Ford of insensitivity.
He said: “One thing he doesn’t know is the importance of the Saville Inquiry and the significance of Bloody Sunday, not just to the families who lost loved ones but also to the community in Derry and many people beyond.”
Mr Durkan said the “grievous” wrongs of Bloody Sunday had been compounded by the subsequent Widgery Inquiry.
He added: “The Alliance Party does not care a jot about that issue.”
The Alliance leader said he regretted that offence had been caused.
Mr Ford said the inquiry had “enriched lawyers but not necessarily achieved anything for the families”. He claimed that he has never been disparaging to the victims’ families.
“I have never denigrated the victims,” he said. “I believe they were the victims of violence perpetrated by members of the parachute regiment which should not have happened. That was a crime.
“My issue is over the proceedings of Saville.”
He also accused the SDLP of leaking the email to the BBC.
He said: “Is it insensitive to use an unfortunate, hastily written word in a private email or is it insensitive to make an issue of it to upset people four months later by making it public?”
REPORT TO BE DELAYED
Despite evidence being given by the last witness five years ago, the final report of the Saville inquiry is yet to be published.
It is due to be delivered later this month to the British Direct Ruler Shaun Woodward but there is speculation that it will once again be delayed.
Mr Woodward admitted this week that a further delay was being planned.
“Where it is the case that the report is delivered and there’s not a parliament to publish the report as an address the report then sits in electronic and in physical form in a warehouse for what might be weeks so I am genuinely concerned,” he said.
“But I am also concerned not just about legitimate leaks but those leaks which actually of course are not based on the report at all but are wild speculation dressed up as leaks to which people might be highly anxious, soldiers, families, but to which it will be impossible to give any response.”