By Jim Gibney (for Irish News)
A thumbs-up sign, shortly after 3.30pm, squeezed through the narrowest of gaps in an upstairs window in Derry’s Guildhall, was the first indication in almost 40 years that something of huge significance was happening for the relatives of those murdered on Bloody Sunday.
The relatives, their legal teams and political representatives were incommunicado from early Tuesday morning inside the Guildhall reading the judgment from Lord Saville, William Hoyt and John Toohey.
Two hands appeared with the thumbs-up sign in another small window. Then a copy of a document appeared in a pair of hands in a third window and the hands were tapping the document approvingly - the document had to be and was Saville’s conclusions.
The massive crowd roared each time these positive gestures emerged. Tears welled up in my eyes, a lump gathered in my throat. All around me people cried as more and more hands and thumbs appeared at windows from one end of the Guildhall to the other.
We could not see or hear who these hands belonged to. We could only guess it was those who had borne the loss of their massacred relatives and who had campaigned relentlessly for the truth and innocence of those shot and injured on Bloody Sunday.
When the relatives emerged from the Guildhall into the sweltering afternoon sun they punched the air repeatedly and smiled with delight. The image of so many ecstatic people crammed into a small space reminded me of that moment many years ago when the Birmingham Six bounced out of London’s High Court triumphantly declaring their innocence as they too punched the air.
Outside the Guildhall the joy on the relatives faces was borne out of tragedy, borne out of decades of frustration and disappointment. ‘Everest’ had at last been climbed and its summit conquered by a group of people and their supporters who had only their willpower to carry them through the darkest of years.
One after another the relatives spoke about their murdered loved ones, quoting liberally from Saville’s devastating report which used the language of innocence to help comfort the bruised and battered psyche of those whose 4O-year memory contained so much hurt and pain.
For the British Paras Saville used the language of humiliation, indignation and censure to describe the ruthless manner in which they hunted down fleeing and defenceless people.
His remarks shamed this regiment - much vaunted as an elite force by the British military establishment.
But shame is not solely the preserve of the British Paras. A few miles away from Derry, on a grassy knoll on the Belfast side of Dungiven, 298 names of men, women and children, on spindly sticks, were planted behind a placard with the inscription, ‘Murdered by the British Army’.
They were put there by Mark Thompson whose brother Peter and two others were gunned down by British soldiers, by JJ Magee whose sister Anne was killed by loyalists, and by Eugene Heenan whose father Eugene was also killed by loyalists. All are members of Relatives lor Justice, campaigning for the truth about state violence and collusion.
The impromptu memorial was erected for the world’s media who flocked to Derry to record the judgment of three distinguished jurists who brought their untrammelled wisdom to bear on a great wrong in order to restore dignity to the meaning of justice.
I left Belfast for Derry leaving a crowd of several hundred republicans at the funeral of Seando Moore. From a young age Seando had spent many years behind bars including several on the blanket protest. He spent his years behind bars campaigning for prisoners’ rights. Outside prison he campaigned to keep the memory of the hunger strikers alive; those republican martyrs from Beechmount and those who died as a result of collusion or British state violence. Seando was an inveterate campaigner. On Tuesday the streets of Derry were thronged with thousands of people like Seando Moore.
They not only basked in the heat of the sun, their spirits were uplifted by the heat of the truth from Saville and the apology and unconditional acceptance of that truth by David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister.
Saville’s truth has replaced Widgery’s lies and with it comes hope for those named on Dungiven’s grassy knoll.