(photo credit: AP)
On January 30, 1972 British paratroopers opened fire on unarmed civilians on a
civil rights march in Derry, Northern Ireland; 14 were killed, seven of them
Only now have the events of that winter’s day been put to
rest with the publication of the Saville Inquiry’s report. The inquiry was set
in motion by Tony Blair in 1998. After 12 years, 30 million words of testimony
and £191 million, it tells us what everyone here in Ireland already knew: “On
balance,” it says, the British soldiers fired first, on unarmed civilians. “In
no case was any warning given before soldiers opened fire” and none of the
soldiers “fired in response to attacks or threatened attacks by nail or petrol
The soldiers later “knowingly put forward false accounts in order
to seek to justify their firing.”
Lord Saville’s findings also confirmed
that many of those shot were fleeing the troops or assisting the
the report’s publication, Prime Minister David Cameron told a hushed
Commons: “The conclusions of this report are absolutely clear.
no doubt, there is nothing equivocal, there are no ambiguities. What
Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong...
government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of our armed forces
that, on behalf of the government – and indeed our country – I am deeply
BLOODY SUNDAY was the spark that ignited a fire in Northern
Ireland that was to burn out of control through the subsequent decades
and sectarian hatred.
The British government’s initial report, the
Widgery report, only added fuel to the fire: It whitewashed events, and
disparaged the dead, accusing the victims of firing weapons or handling
heaping insult on top of grief. These false conclusions were based in
faulty forensic evidence.
Many have already derided the inquiry as a
pointless waste of time and money. Yet its true value may not lie so
much in the
report itself, but in the reaction to it: In Derry, several families
triumphantly quoted the report, joyful that it at last cleared the
the allegations that they had been gunmen or nail-bombers.
whose 17-year-old brother, Michael, was killed by the paratroopers, told
crowd outside the Guildhall: “What matters above all else – what has
been in our
constant thoughts all these years – is the innocence of our loved ones.
the verdict we wanted. That’s the verdict we have today. That will be
verdict of history for all time.
That is what matters.”
we have truth about Bloody Sunday. So what next? There is speculation
soldiers involved in the killings will stand trial for murder. Yet
not what the relatives of the victims want: Jean Hegarty, whose
brother, Kevin McElhinney, was shot on Bloody Sunday while crawling to
has said she wanted the paratrooper who killed him to explain his
court, but not be sent to prison.
The peace process has seen the release
of a huge number of convicted paramilitaries, she noted, saying: “I have
great desire to see a [now] 60-yearold man go to jail.”
chairman of the Bloody Sunday Trust, who was on the 1973 march and
events, said: “That would be the majority opinion in Derry and also
It is this beautiful, inspiring spirit of forgiveness in the
face of injustice, suffering and death; this absence of hate, this
vengefulness; these are the stones upon which lasting peace will be
Perhaps the 14 people killed on Bloody Sunday, and the 3,000 other
people killed in Northern Ireland’s troubles, including 700 British
will not have died in vain if the centuries old scars of division on
are at last healed because their loved ones choose to forgive.
the word “sorry” never cost so much, the forgiveness it has engendered
Northern Ireland’s experience is now being offered as a
template for conflict resolution throughout the world.
agreements, treaties and power-sharing executives all played a role, but
there is one eternal lesson that the people of Derry can today offer the
it is this: The true fount of peace lies in not in the machinations of
politicians, but in the hearts of ordinary people – in the quiet
humility and strength that is required not to strike back in vengeance,
rise above the human desire for retribution that has always been the
human conflict, and to somehow find the grace to forgive.The writer is
an Irish journalist. He specializes in political, legal and religious