Cameron praised for accepting findings

Sinn Fein’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness complimented the Conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron on a “generous” statement in which he apologised for the Bloody Sunday killings.

Cameron told the Westminster parliament that while British soldiers were “the finest in the world”, you do not “defend the British army by defending the indefensible”.

“It is clear from the tribunal’s authoritative conclusions that the events of Bloody Sunday were in no way justified,” Cameron said.

“I know some people wonder whether nearly 40 years on from an event, a prime minister needs to issue an apology. For someone of my generation, this is a period we feel we have learned about rather than lived through.

“But what happened should never, ever have happened. The families of those who died should not have had to live with the pain and hurt of that day - and a lifetime of loss. Some members of our armed forces acted wrongly. The government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces. And for that, on behalf of the government - and indeed our country - I am deeply sorry.”

Nevertheless, he declared that the British government and the military top brass had been cleared.

“Those looking for a conspiracy involving senior politicians or senior members of the armed forces - they will not find it in this report,” he said.

Mr McGuinness said the report and Mr Cameron’s reaction to it, would help cement the peace and political process.

26-County Taoiseach Brian Cowen also praised the “brave and honest words” of the British PM thanked Mr Cameron for his “good faith” in ensuring the Saville report was published so early into his office.

“Fourteen innocent people died on the streets in Derry on January 30th, 1972. There is no doubt. There are no ambiguities. In truth, there never were. They were innocent. May they rest in peace,” Mr Cowen said.

“Today is the day when the truth has been set free in the city of Derry. This is not about the reopening of old wounds, but rather it is about the healing of the gaping wounds of injustice left behind by the terrible events of Bloody Sunday,” he added.

He said the ultimate injustice perpetrated on Bloody Sunday was the unjustified and unjustifiable killing of innocent civilians by those who claimed to be keeping the peace and upholding the law.

“It was an act of murder that cried out for justice and truth. Instead, justice and truth were denied and cast aside,” he said.

The Saville inquiry had not been made necessary by the “horrific” events of Bloody Sunday but by the “whitewash that was the Widgery report”.

The suffering of the victims and their families was “deeply compounded” by the Widgery tribunal’s “discredited and disgraceful findings”. However this “shameful attempt to distort history at the expense of the innocent” was consigned to history, he added.

“From this day forth, history will record what the families have always known to be true,” he said.

Irish President Mary McAleese said she hoped the Saville report “at long last” provided families and survivors with consolation “that the world now knows the awful truth about Bloody Sunday”.

She also spoke of the emotion which the report’s publication held for many in Ireland.

The implications of the findings that deaths and casualties were unjustified and unjustifiable would need to be “considered by the appropriate authorities,” she addd.

Former SDLP leader Mark Durkan, whose Foyle constituency includes Derry, said the publication of the long-awaited Saville report came on a “day of deep emotion” for the city.

“These men were cut down when they marched for justice in their own streets, but not only were their lives taken, their innocent memory was then interned without truth by the travesty of the Widgery tribunal.

“And will the prime minister confirm clearly today that the Widgery findings are now repudiated and binned and should not be relied upon by anyone as giving any verdict on that day?”

Democratic Unionist MP Gregory Campbell criticised the cost of the inquiry and said Saville should have reported on the actions of the IRA prior to Bloody Sunday.

“We did not need a 200 million pound inquiry to know that there was no premeditated plan to shoot civilians on that day. We didn’t need a report of that length to tell us that as a result of the actions of the IRA before Bloody Sunday that parts of the city ‘lay in ruins’.

“There has been no similar inquiry into the financing of the IRA at the inception of that organisation by another state, the Irish Republic. That Irish State acted as a midwife for the birth of an organisation responsible for murdering many thousands of UK citizens,” Mr Campbell said.

Responding to Campbell’s bitterness, Cameron said: “I hope that he will understand that there is something about Bloody Sunday - about the fact that 13 people were shot by British army soldiers - that there is something that did necessitate a proper inquiry. Don’t let’s pretend that there isn’t something about that day that didn’t need to be answered and answered clearly.”

Speaking shortly before the report was published, Mr McGuinness said the British state had decided to send in the parachute regiment to teach the people of Derry a lesson. Speaking after the report was published, he said: “Here we are 38 years on, almost 40 years on, and it is quite clear these families, who have stood up against the British state, have taught the British state and military a lesson I think they will never forget,” he said.

He also called for a wide-ranging “independent, international tribunal” into the past.

Bishop Edward Daly, who as a local curate helped to ferry the dead from the Bogside while waving a blood-stained handkerchief, welcomed the Saville report and the British government’s reaction to it.

“The events that I saw that day - I always knew what happened. It is wonderful to see someone stating quite clearly that these people weren’t posing any threat, that they weren’t guilty of any offence. The implication is that their killing was unjustifiable.”

The US State department welcomed publication of the Saville report, saying it hoped the findings would contribute to the “ongoing transformation from a turbulent past to a peaceful future.”

Amnesty International also welcomed the report. “The inquiry... began with a promise of truth and we hope that today, over 38 years since 14 civilians were fatally shot by British soldiers at a civil rights march, that promise has been fulfilled,” director Kate Allen said.

Ivan Cooper, co-founder of the SDLP and the man who led the anti-internment march on Bloody Sunday, said he was impressed by the Saville report - particularly the vindication of everything the families had worked for.

He said the authorities should immediately arrest Major General Robert Ford and bring him to justice.

“He was commander of land forces that day, and I believe he was ultimately responsible for all the deaths that day,” Mr Cooper said. “I saw him on William Street, and he was striding about with a baton under his arm like an English overlord and he was shouting to the Paras ‘go Paras go’, and they went all right and they murdered innocent people.”

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