On Bloody Sunday’s 50th Anniversary: Frustration at New British Proposal to Hide the Truth
By Brian Dooley
This Sunday, at 4pm Irish time, people all over the world will put lighted candles in their windows to mark the anniversary of the Bloody Sunday Massacre in Derry.
They will be marking exactly half a century since thirteen unarmed civil rights protesters were shot dead in about ten minutes by British soldiers. Another victim died later.
Those killed on Bloody Sunday are among more than 3,700 people killed during the conflict in the north of Ireland between 1969 and 1998.
Human Rights First has advocated for full independent investigations into Troubles-related crimes since the 1980s. Although an official report, commissioned and accepted by the British government in 2010, identifies members of the Parachute Regiment as the perpetrators, no soldier has ever been prosecuted for the killings.
A series of events this week mark the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. Among the most important issues: victims’ and victims’ families’ search for the truth about how their loved ones were killed.
I chaired a panel organized by the Pat Finucane Centre and the Bloody Sunday Trust, broadcast on Wednesday January 26, with people who have been campaigning for many years for answers from the British government about how exactly their family members died.
The panel included John Kelly, whose teenage brother Michael was one of those shot dead on Bloody Sunday. It featured Natasha Butler, whose grandfather and four other people, including a parish priest and a 13 year-old schoolgirl, were killed by British soldiers in Belfast later in 1972.
Alan McBride also appeared, and spoke about the 1993 IRA bomb that killed his wife Sharon and eight other people, including small children, in a fish and chip shop on Belfast’s Shankill Road.
They were joined by Margaret Urwin, of Justice for the Forgotten, a campaign for answers about the killing of 24 people on May 17, 1974 from bombs planted in Dublin and Monaghan by Loyalist paramilitaries.
The final speaker was Michael Gallagher, whose son was one of 31 people killed by another paramilitary group, the Real IRA, in a bomb in Omagh on August 15, 1998.
The panel focused on new legislation proposed by the British government which would effectively provide amnesty for all Troubles-related crimes, no matter who perpetrated them. The legislation would protect former British soldiers from prosecutions, and stop the emergence of evidence of collusion between the British government and paramilitaries. The legislation would shut down all current and prospective court hearings and official inquests, leaving no official way to pursue truth or justice.
Michael Gallagher recounted that “our only son Aidan went into town to buy a pair of jeans and he never returned, one of 31 killed that day…[but] there are so many unanswered questions, and it’s totally horrendous that there will be no accountability if this [proposed legislation] goes through.”
The proposal has been compared to the amnesty introduced in Chile after the Pinochet dictatorship, which protected former officials from being held accountable for human rights crimes. Yet Chile’s amnesty covered only five of Pinochet’s 17 years in power, and excluded some crimes, including those of sexual violence, from the amnesty. The proposed British version covers 1969 to 1998, and has no exemptions for any crimes.
All panelists said they would continue their campaigns if this proposal is enacted and official routes are closed down. Butler, who was not yet born when her grandfather was killed, said “I’m the transgenerational element here, I’m 31 and there’s many more years of fight in me but I want this to end with my generation. If this legislation passes, this will be just the start of another fight and we won’t give up. The truth needs to be told regardless of what that truth is.”
The candle lighting at four o’clock Sunday (11 am EST) will be a somber moment. But the families of those killed, and all families united in their frustration at British government attempts to halt the search for truth, remain defiant.
You can show your support by putting a lighted candle in your window and posting a picture of it on twitter with the hashtag #BloodySunday50.
John Kelly was at the civil rights protest on Bloody Sunday when his brother Michael was killed. He and other families have spent decades struggling to have the full truth discovered and told. Kelly remains hopeful that a British soldier (known, to protect his anonymity, as Soldier F) might still be prosecuted for the murder of his brother, but the case has dragged on for many years.
“The British government is hoping everyone will die off and the problem will be solved that way,” said Kelly. “But the journey continues for us, and justice will be seen to be done. We’re going to fight this legislation every step of the way.”