In this week’s blog Fr Paddy speaks about the hope of Northern Ireland and its desire for peace and new beginnings.
Fr. Paddy Byrne has a weekly column in the Nationalist papers.
This column appeared in the edition published July 2010.
THE Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday on 30 January 1972, when British paratroopers killed 14 civil rights marchers in Derry, finally issued its report on 15 June. It is a report about the past, but it may help people towards the future.
Immediately after the killings, the whole of nationalist Ireland erupted. The British embassy in Dublin was burnt to the ground; there were calls for the Irish army – such as it was – to be moved to the Border; and an international campaign was begun by the Irish government to condemn the British. IRA recruiting soared.
For its part, the British government’s propaganda machine went swiftly into action with the appointment of the Widgery Inquiry, which reported back within 11 weeks. It found that the soldiers were fired at first. Saville found the opposite. Widgery believed the account given by the soldiers; Saville did not: “We have concluded that many of these soldiers have knowingly put forward false accounts in order to seek to justify their firing” (Saville 2.82).
For the relatives of the dead, the Saville Report was vindication: their loved ones were not gunmen; they were innocent; they were wrongly killed. This was an outcome for which they had been struggling for nearly 40 years. A less clear-cut conclusion about the innocence of the dead would have been a crushing blow for the relatives of those who were murdered.
The British government’s apology has been full: there were no ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’ about it. Nationalists and Republicans need to recognise that it was not easy for the government to do this. The apology changed the meaning of Bloody Sunday. It meant that at last those who had suffered had been listened to, had been heard and had been recognised. This matters to people who have been treated unjustly.
Yes, Bloody Sunday was an outrage, but it is now an outrage that has been admitted. Responsibility for it has been taken, repentance has been expressed.
However, there is a hard, if not new, lesson for the establishment to learn, not only from Bloody Sunday but also from the legal corruption shown over other miscarriages of justice, including the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four. In all these, the accused were wrongly held in jail for so long partly because the British political, legal and military establishment could not face the ‘appalling vista’ that the state had lied systematically. But the state had lied.
If this happened in the past, it can happen again. International forces are currently engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are many questions about such conflicts and justice. The soldiers taking part are doing so on behalf of various nations.
This means we need to ask ourselves about the conditions in which they are being asked to fight, the training they receive, the standards that are set, the psychological aid that is available for unavoidable trauma and the independent oversight of their actions. The Saville Report tells us not only about our past; it raises questions about our present.
There has been so much movement and real dialogue in the hearts of the Northern Irish people. Polarised mindsets have somehow begun to find truth in the reality of a common desire for peace and new beginnings. The Northern story is a hopeful story, a process that will bring much healing.