Bloody Sunday - A personal reflection

By Tony Doherty (for the Derry Journal)

The British public has the right to know what has been done in their name and the fact that ordinary working class families, as well as all those wounded on the day, were left to carry the burden of injustice for almost 40 years.

Ever since the unbelievable enormity of what had just taken place in the Bogside had dawned on people, around the late evening of Sunday, 30th January 1972, Derry has been waiting for the truth to be written, spoken, accepted and acknowledged, and for justice to be done. Widgery, foisted upon us as a disgraceful substitute for all of the above, has now been consigned to the judicial dustbin, forever a glaring reference for students and historians to cover-up, lies and holding the line for a murderous deed.

Bloody Sundays have happened the world over but, with the Saville Inquiry, rarely has the world seen such an unearthing of facts in order to get to the truth about a single event. With the publication of the Report of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, Tuesday, 15th June may well turn out to the day we have all been waiting for.

Depending on who you are, or to be more exact, where you were on Bloody Sunday, your memory is forever defined by that location. Many of the younger generation of sons and daughters, or younger sisters and brothers of those directly affected, like myself, experienced the news of the event in its immediate aftermath because we were too young to be there. Ours is a memory defined by such great grief and sadness that is oft-times physically impossible to speak of. This memory will stay forever in a child’s mind.

For those who were there on that fateful day - who witnessed the shootings, the brutality, the bodies, and who were forced to scurry in terror, like slaves, away from Rossville Street into back alleys and gardens, or frog-marched like criminals - theirs is a memory defined by the horror of what they saw, heard and felt. No Inquiry or truth recovery process diminishes the memory of horror, no matter how well intentioned or acquitted.

It is important for me to say also that, for many others, especially in the Unionist or Protestant neighbourhoods of Derry, their memory may well be defined by the tenor or slant of news of the event as it travelled across the city or on the airwaves. It is probably true that many were too eager to believe that the Paras’ version of Bloody Sunday - that they had killed gunmen and bombers on the streets of the Bogside - was the true account of what had taken place and, indeed, was long overdue.

I know from having met Protestant community leaders and churchmen in more recent times, since the full course, weight and detail of the Saville Inquiry has become obvious, that it is practically universally accepted that the Paras’ or government version of the atrocity is nothing but a lie which has created a massive injustice, burdening and dividing the city of Derry for far too long.

Just resolution

Recently, when we visited London to campaign for the speedy release of the report, Lady Sylvia Hermon attended a public meeting in Westminster and spoke very eloquently about her own memories of Bloody Sunday and was very eager to understand the importance of a just resolution from the families’ perspective.

It is also true, of course, that there is an element within Unionism, often voiced locally, which is characterised by intransigence and fixated upon the need to be anything but positive. On the issue of Bloody Sunday, its resolution and the building of a city and a future in which we all can share, it is our hope that we hear other more progressive and moderate voices from within the Protestant and Unionist community, voices who are willing to accept the truth if or when it is placed in front of them, rather than hold on to old lies for political reasons.

The event of Bloody Sunday is often cast as the prelude or slipway to a long and tragic conflict. For many, the travesty of Widgery was the final straw. The innocent were found guilty and the guilty were deemed innocent. There was no real explanation as to how 13 men and boys lay dead in Derry’s cemetery. Many other young men and women rejected the previously popular demands of the Civil Rights Association or any political alternative. 1972 was the bloodiest year in the conflict. Many young men and women from this city spent the best years of their lives in prison in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. In 1981, I myself began my own prison journey after being sentenced for IRA offences. Such is the legacy of Bloody Sunday.

For much of my own young and adult life, I would have willingly ended the life of Soldier F whose name I know and whose face I saw for the first time at the Inquiry hearings in London in 2003. Soldier F killed Paddy Doherty, my father. He also killed Barney McGuigan, Michael Kelly and Willie McKinney and probably wounded several others within the space of a few minutes. He is a remorseless killer and it is, therefore, difficult to square words and deeds of forgiveness and non-vengeance with his mind-set. If truth be told, I cannot forgive someone who is not remorseful. However, in consideration of other feelings, someone once told me of this Russian proverb: “If you seek revenge, you must dig two graves.”

People power

When we go into the Guildhall next Tuesday morning, we do so as proud Irish men and women whose determined and prolonged use of people power has finally paid off. We do so expecting to see the truth written down. For those whose memories are defined by having been there on Bloody Sunday and who have known the truth because they witnessed it, seeing the truth written down is official confirmation of what they have always known but has for too long been denied.

When David Cameron’s government reflects on all of the implications of the Saville Report, he, himself, as British Prime Minister, should be mindful of what this report means, not just for us, but for the British people. We have known the truth for decades, albeit unofficial and unacknowledged.

The British public know little about Ireland but I suspect what they think they know is that their boys were over here doing a good job keeping two warring sides apart and that they have brought about peace at last. Bloody Sunday tells a different story. In terms of what we may be about to be told, Bloody Sunday was an atrocity committed by the crack Parachute Regiment of the British Army against innocent civil rights demonstrators in broad daylight in front of thousands of witnesses.

Next Tuesday, in Westminster, David Cameron must acknowledge the enormity of the crime that Bloody Sunday was and is. The British public has the right to know what has been done in their name and the fact that ordinary working class families - the Duddys, McDaids, Youngs, Nashs, Gilmours, McElhinneys, Wrays, McKinneys, Donagheys, Kellys, McGuigans and Johnstons - as well as all those wounded on the day, were left to carry the burden of injustice for almost 40 years.

Civic role

Finally, the families would like to invite the whole population of Derry too, on Tuesday, proceed from Rossville Street at 3 pm to the Guildhall Square where we will address you by telling you what will be acknowledged about our loved ones. While this occasion is very personal to us as families, we are also very clear as to the civic and inclusive nature of it.

We are asking workers, students, political groups, human rights and campaign groups, people from every walk of life in every community and neighbourhood, to join us on the day for which we have all been waiting for almost 40 years. The only banner to be carried on the procession will be that of the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign, the banner of the families whose campaign has brought us to this day.

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