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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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David Cameron Issues Formal State Apology for Bloody Sunday

cameron-bloody-sunday-apologyOn June 15, 2010, David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, issues a formal state apology for the “unjustified and unjustifiable” killing of fourteen civil rights marchers in Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland by British soldiers on Bloody Sunday, January 30, 1972. Cameron says Lord Saville inquiry’s long-awaited report shows soldiers lied about their involvement in the killings and that all of those who died were innocent.

Bloody Sunday, as the events on January 30, 1972 come to be known, is one of the most controversial moments of the Troubles. Paramilitary open fire while trying to police a banned civil rights march. They kill 13 marchers outright, and, according to Saville, wound another 15, one of whom subsequently dies later in the hospital.

In the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, Cameron begins his statement by saying he is “deeply patriotic” and does not want to believe anything bad about his country. Cameron says the inquiry, a 5,000-page, 10-volume report, which takes twelve years to compile at a cost of almost £191m, is “absolutely clear” and there are “no ambiguities” about the conclusions. He adds, “What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong.”

The report concludes there is no justification for shooting at any of those killed or wounded on the march. “None of the firing by the Support Company [Paratroopers] was aimed at people posing a threat or causing death or serious injury.” The report adds that the shootings “were not the result of any plan to shoot selected ringleaders” and that none of those killed by British soldiers was armed with firearms and no warning was given by the soldiers.

“The government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces, and for that, on behalf of the government and on behalf of the country, I am deeply sorry,” says Cameron. The inquiry finds that the order sending British soldiers into the Bogside “should not have been given.” Cameron adds the casualties were caused by the soldiers “losing their self control.”

The eagerly awaited report does not hold the British government at the time directly responsible for the atrocity. It finds that there is “no evidence” that either the British government or the unionist-dominated Northern Ireland administration encouraged the use of lethal force against the demonstrators. It also exonerates the army’s then commander of land forces, Major General Robert Ford, of any blame.

Most of the damning criticism against the military is directed at the soldiers on the ground who fired on the civilians. Saville says that on Bloody Sunday there had been “a serious and widespread loss of fire discipline among the soldiers.” He concludes that many of the soldiers lied to his inquiry. “Many of these soldiers have knowingly put forward false accounts in order to seek to justify their firing.” Under the rules of the inquiry this conclusion means that soldiers could be prosecuted for perjury.

The report also focuses on the actions of two Republican gunmen on the day and says that the Official Irish Republican Army (IRA) men had gone to a prearranged sniping position. But Saville finds that their actions did not provoke in any way the shootings by the paramilitary regiment.

Relatives cheer as they watch the statement, relayed to screens outside the Guildhall in Derry. A minute of silence is held as thousands of supporters fill the square outside, waiting to be told about the report’s contents. A representative of each of the families speaks in turn and a copy of the hated report by Lord Widgery, which in 1972 accuses the victims of firing weapons or handling bombs, is torn apart by one of the families’ representatives.

Denis Bradley, who played a key part in secret talks that brought about the IRA ceasefire of 1994 and who was on the Bloody Sunday march in 1972, welcomes the report’s findings. The former Derry priest, who narrowly escaped being shot on the day, says he is “amazed” at how damning the findings are against the soldiers. He adds, “This city has been vindicated, this city has been telling the truth all along.”

(Pictured: Family and supporters watch David Cameron’s formal state apology in Guildhall Square in Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland)


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The Widgery Report Is Released

john-passmore-widgeryJohn Passmore Widgery, Baron Widgery, English judge who serves as Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales from 1971 to 1980, issues his report exonerating “Bloody Sunday” troops on April 19, 1972.

Widgery receives promotion to the Court of Appeal in 1968. He has barely gotten used to his new position when Lord Parker of Waddington, who had been Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales since 1958, announces his retirement. There is no obvious successor and Widgery is the most junior of the possible appointees. The Lord Chancellor, Quintin Hogg, Baron Hailsham of St. Marylebone, chooses Widgery largely on the basis of his administrative abilities. On April 20, 1971 he is created a life peer taking the title Baron Widgery, of South Molton in the County of Devon.

Shortly after taking over, Widgery is handed the politically sensitive job of conducting an inquiry into the events of January 30, 1972 in Derry, where troops from 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment had murdered 13 civil rights marchers, commonly referred to as Bloody Sunday. A 14th person dies shortly after Widgery’s appointment. He hears testimony from the paratroopers, who claim they had been shot at, while the marchers insist that no one from the march was armed. Widgery produces a report that takes the British Army‘s side. He placed the main blame for the deaths on the march organisers for creating a dangerous situation where a confrontation was inevitable. His strongest criticism of the Army is that the “firing bordered on the reckless.”

The Widgery Report is accepted by the British government and Northern Ireland‘s unionists but is immediately denounced by Irish nationalist politicians, and people in the Bogside and Creggan areas are disgusted by his findings. The British Government had acquired some goodwill because of its suspension of the Stormont Parliament, but that disappears when Widgery’s conclusions are published. The grievance with Widgery’s findings lingers and the issue remains live as the Northern Ireland peace process advances in the 1990s.

In January 1998, on the eve of the 26th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, Prime Minister Tony Blair announces a new inquiry, criticising the rushed process in which Widgery failed to take evidence from those wounded and did not personally read eyewitness accounts. The resulting Bloody Sunday Inquiry lasts 12 years before the Saville Report is published on June 15, 2010. It demolishes the Widgery Report, finding that soldiers lied about their actions and falsely claimed to have been attacked.

Prime Minister David Cameron, on behalf of the United Kingdom, formally apologises for the “unjustified and unjustifiable” events of Bloody Sunday. As a result of the Saville Report, even observers who are natural supporters of the British Army now regard Widgery as discredited. The conservative historian and commentator Max Hastings describes the Widgery report as “a shameless cover-up.”


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The Bloody Sunday Inquiry

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 75The Bloody Sunday Inquiry, also known as the Saville Inquiry or the Saville Report after its chairman, Mark Saville, Baron Saville of Newdigate, is launched on April 3, 1998 by British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The inquiry follows campaigns for a second inquiry by families of those killed and injured in Derry on Bloody Sunday during the peak of ethno-political violence known as The Troubles. The inquiry is set up to establish a definitive version of the events of Sunday, January 30, 1972, superseding the tribunal set up under John Widgery, Baron Widgery that had reported on April 19, 1972, eleven weeks after the events, and to resolve the accusations of a whitewash that had surrounded it.

The inquiry takes the form of a tribunal established under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921, and consists of Lord Saville, the former Chief Justice of New Brunswick William L. Hoyt and John L. Toohey, a former Justice of the High Court of Australia.

The judges finish hearing evidence on November 23, 2004, and reconvene once again on December 16 to listen to testimony from another witness, known as Witness X, who had been unavailable earlier.

The report is published on June 15, 2010. That morning thousands of people walk the path that the civil rights marchers had taken on Bloody Sunday before fourteen were killed, holding photos of those who had been shot. The families of the victims receive advance copies of the report inside the Guildhall.

Then British prime minister David Cameron addresses the House of Commons that afternoon where he describes what British soldiers had done as “both unjustified and unjustifiable, it was wrong.” He acknowledges, among other things, that the paratroopers had fired the first shot, had fired on fleeing unarmed civilians, and shot and killed one man who was already wounded. He then apologises on behalf of the British Government by saying he is “deeply sorry.”

(Pictured: Lord Saville and his colleagues visit the Bogside during their first day in the city on April 3, 1998. Credit: Derry Journal)