Over ten thousand people took part in what some have argued should be the final Bloody Sunday march in Derry.
The commemoration was the first since last year’s publication of the Saville report which exonerated all those killed and wounded when British troops opened fire on a civil rights demonstration in January 1972.
Many of the marchers symbolically completed the planned route of the original anti-internment protest to Guildhall Square on Sunday.
However, some of the Bloody Sunday families broke off from the main rally in protest at the decision not to prosecute the killers of their loved ones and attempts to make this year’s march the last. They marched instead to the parade’s traditional climax at Free Derry corner.
The crowd on one of the biggest turnouts ever recorded emotionally applauded as the names of the 14 men and boys who were shot dead by British paratroopers were read out.
Those who rallied in the Guildhall Square sang the civil rights anthem ‘We Shall Overcome’ and were addressed by Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and by the SDLP’s Mark Durkan.
Mr Adams recalled the Ballymurphy Massacre in Belfast in 1971. He said relatives of the people killed by Paratroopers then also deserved to hear the truth and called for the establishment of an international truth commission.
“The British prime minister also said that Bloody Sunday is not the defining story of the British army in our country. Mr Cameron, Bloody Sunday is the defining story of the British army in our country,” he said.
He said all victims of the conflict, including those killed by republicans, deserved to hear the truth. He said this could be delivered by a trust established by an international agency and supported by the British and Irish governments.
Mr Durkan said that while the Saville report exonerated the victims, it was not strong enough on the guilt of the killers. He singled out the case of Gerald Donaghey who, Saville claimed, had been handling nail bombs although this did not justify his killing.
In tribute to former mayor of Derry, Dr Raymond McClean, who died on Saturday, Mr Durkan said he knew the truth about the teenager’s death. This contrasted with the British Army version accepted by Saville.
“This may be the last march in this form but it is not the last stand that we will all take in relation to truth, in relation to justice whether it is in relation to Bloody Sunday, the families of Ballymurphy or so many other people who have also suffered the loss of loved ones at the hands of unjustified and unjustifiable violence,” he said.
Gerry Duddy, one of those bereaved by the massacre, said there were faults with the Saville report but the core message was inescapable.
“Innocence has been proven and accepted. This truth has at last been acknowledged,” he said.
The rally was also addressed by Brid Voyle, whose mother Joan Connolly was one of those killed in the Ballymurphy Massacre. She called for continued support for the Ballymurphy families as they sought justice for their loved ones.
However, there was a poignant moment as the march split, with marchers led by relatives of victim Wllllam Nash leaving the main parade at William Street and symbolically marching to Free Derry Corner.
Linda Nash said the family believed the decision to cease the march was premature. “We’re doing this because we feel we have a great platform here. We haven’t received justice,” she said.
Ms Nash said her family intended staging a march every year until the soldiers who shot and killed her brother and wounded her father Alex Nash were prosecuted.
The following day, it emerged that the families of 10 of the 14 victims of Bloody Sunday have now sought the prosecutions of the soldiers from the Parachute Regiment responsible for their deaths.
No soldier has ever been charged with the killings.
Senior British Army officials have blamed the soldiers for the deaths, dismissing claims that the soldiers were deliberately ‘hyped up’ for a bloody confrontation ahead of the parade.
However, almost 40 years after the event, a case is now being prepared for the Crown Prosecution Service.
One of those pushing for prosecutions is John Kelly, whose brother Michael was shot dead when he was just 17.
Mr Kelly said that while the publication of Saville’s report in June was “a euphoric day”, he saw it as a stepping stone towards securing convictions against the soldier who killed Michael.
He added: “For 39 years we fought for truth and justice and while Saville gave us the truth, now we must have justice.
“This is something I have personally sought all along and have never given up hope of achieving.
“I am very confident that I, along with the other families, will see the soldiers responsible for their deaths prosecuted.
“Every death that day was labelled as ‘unjustified and unjustifiable’ by the British Prime Minister and in my book that’s murder -- which was why we instructed our solicitor to proceed and prepare a case.”
IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST
The Belfast-based firm of solicitors Madden and Finucane represent the 10 families. On Monday, their office confirmed that they submitted “detailed representations to the Public Prosecution Service requesting that those responsible for the murders and attempted murders on Bloody Sunday be prosecuted in court”.
Solicitor Peter Madden said: “It is clear to us that the evidential and public interest tests for bringing prosecutions have been satisfied.”
Welcoming the news, Mickey McKinney, brother of Willie McKinney, said: “I am aware that the majority of families quite rightly want prosecutions for the murder and attempted murder of their loved ones on Bloody Sunday. It is my family’s hope that this submission will help the prosecution service move forward using the substantial evidence which exists to prosecute those responsible for the murder of my brother.
“June 15 last year was a great day of achievement for Derry. However, there is still unfinished business in that those who murdered and maimed our people should be held to account for their crimes.
“Murder is murder, and Willie McKinney would still be walking the streets of this town if it wasn’t for what happened on Bloody Sunday,” he added.
The Duddy family also agreed.
“On June 15 last year, David Cameron said that the killings on Bloody Sunday were ‘unjustified and unjustifiable’ and he also said that the British government took ‘full responsibility’ for this massacre. All we want now is for them to act upon this and do the right thing,” said family spokesperson Gerry Duddy.
“Those who commit murder, attempted murder and perjury must be held responsible for their crimes like anyone else would be. If we are to be treated equally within the law, then it is only right that prosecutions will take place.”