Monday, January 30, 2012

Bloody Sunday, Forty Years Ago Today

17 Year old Jackie Duddy, the first fatality of the day, is carried as the Priest who was next to him waves a white handkerchief.

Note:  This is re-posted from one year ago.

There was a lot of hope on the drab and dangerous streets of Derry, Northern Ireland the morning of January 30, 1972.  The reason was the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA.)  Since 1968 this group which included both Catholics and Protestant liberals had been campaigning for basic Civil Rights for the Catholic minority in Ulster using the tools of protest and non-violence explicitly modeled on the Civil Rights movement in the American South.

This was a new tactic where change through the conventional avenues of democracy was thwarted by a gerrymandering of election districts which kept Protestant Unionist perpetually in power, even guaranteeing that they would represent many overwhelmingly Catholic neighborhoods and villages and where violent insurrection against the Crown was a treasured and storied tradition.

Youthful marchers had demanded an end to the gerrymandered election districts; a “one man, one vote” extension of local government franchise; the ending of housing discrimination which crowded the burgeoning Catholic population into well defined urban neighborhoods and rural villages; an end to job discrimination that kept Catholics from high paying crafts in the shipyards and other industries as well as in government; and the disbandment of the Ulster Special Constabulary (USB) or B-Specials, a reserve paramilitary unit used to enforce order on Catholics by means of police terror.

Just as NICRA leaders expected, having learned from the U.S. model, local Protestant authorities responded to their marches with swift and overwhelming repression.  Police attacks on marchers were common.  Leaders were arrested on any pretext.  Thing came to a head on October 5, 1968 when the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) attacked marchers in Catholic Derry injuring scores.  Film and photographs of the violence attracted attention in Britain, Europe, and the US.  As expected the attacks and the simple reasonable justice of the demands, elicited strong sympathy across the world.

Feeling the pressure, the Unionist Ulster Prime Minister appealed for calm and announced a program of limited reform on December 9.  Some local units of the NICRA declared a moratorium on marches until the following January to see if gains materialized.  Other chapters continued to march and students like Bernadette Devlin organized an even more militant organization, People’s Democracy.

Trouble erupted again in August, 1969.  However dedicated to non-violence NICRA leaders were, they could not contain the spontaneous angry response of the people in the neighborhoods.  The NICRA announced a march to protest the annual, proactive Apprentice Boys March by the ultra-Unionist Orange Order through Derry and other Catholic neighborhood.  March permits were denied while the Orange Order was given the go ahead for their triumphalist march commemorating the defeat of Catholic forces at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.  Youth attacked the Protestant marchers with rocks, the RUC responded with force, and three days of rioting broke out across Ulster.  Known as the Battle of the Bogside, the event is now looked upon as the beginning of The Troubles.

The Unionist government responded with a request for British troops to “restore order.”  The troops sent.  Many even welcomed them at first hoping that they would be more even-handed then the partisan RUC and USB.  But after British troops fired on and killed two demonstrators in July 1971.  The situation “changed over night” and British troops became widely regarded as the enemy.  The small, ultra-nationalist Provisional IRA, which had broken from the increasingly Marxist Official IRA quickly began to gather recruits  and announced a campaign against British Troops, as well as local forces. 

Just before the 1971 Apprentice Boy Marchers, but the British government announced a policy of detention without trial and began rounding up not only suspected IRA men, most of whom went into hiding, but Civil Rights and other community leaders.  Predictably protests to the new policy fueled new riots.  Over three days 21 civilians were killed across Northern Ireland and hundreds injured.  The first British trooper was shot by a Provo sniper.

Hundreds of men and women were now rounded up and placed in detention, fueling more protests.  By December clashes were routine and the IRA had killed six more troopers.

NICRA leaders hoped to restore calm by resuming non-violent marches.  When they scheduled a march in Derry on January 30, 1972 they first secured agreement from both the Provisional and Official branches of the IRA not to allow their men to bring fire arms to the event.  This was well known to British intelligence services.  As usual, however, the march was banned.  Still, the marchers set off that morning in the high hope of regaining the moral high ground.

Authorities decided to allow the march within Catholic Derry but to prevent it from entering Guildhall Square.  The First Battalion of the Parachute Regiment (1 Para) was sent to the scene with specific orders to block the march at that point with force, if necessary.

Leaders decided not to challenge the troops, diverting the main march to Free Derry Corner, where they were assured they would be safe from attack.  A small number of local youth, however, broke from the main march and continued to Guildhall Square, pelting an Army Barracks with stones and taunting troops. Water cannon, tear gas, and rubber bullets were deployed, but two rioters were shot and wounded by live ammunition. 

 At 4 PM, responding to unfounded rumors of an IRA sniper, the Paras were ordered to enter the Bogside district where the peaceful marchers were still assembled. An order was given to fire live rounds.  17 year old Jackie Duddy was shot next to a Roman Catholic Priest as both fled from the troops.  Orders were given to continue to pursue demonstrators at the edge of Free Derry Square.  Troops opened up with indiscriminate fire and continued to shoot even after receiving direct order to stop.  Twelve more, all unarmed, were killed while fleeing or while attempting to aid those who had fallen.  At least one was shot and killed while waving a white handkerchief and going to the aid of a fallen boy.  Another was shot and injured then executed by a close range shot to the head as he pleaded that he had lost feeling in his legs.  14 others were shot, one of whom, shot at some distance from the main action and not even involved, died months later.  Two demonstrators were run over and seriously maimed by armored personnel carriers. No British soldier was wounded by gunfire or reported any injuries.

Bloody Sunday changed everything.  Any chance at peaceful change through non-violent protest was out the window.  Radicalized youth flocked to the militant Provos who stepped up their own military campaign against the Army.  They would ambush of patrol of the Para Regiment in a rural village and killing 18 in 1979 in an act of revenge.  Sectarian violence raged among IRA forces, Protestant Paramilitaries, and the British Army.   Thousands were killed and wounded.  Many Catholics were driven from their neighborhoods and villages.  Violence continued until the Good Friday Accords, finally arranged a power sharing agreement between unionists and Republicans and agreements for disarmament of forces on all sides—except the British Army—were made in 1998 after 26 years of fighting.  The accords held through tensions and the refusals of armed minorities in each camp to comply.

The blatant shooting of un-armed civilians in modern Europe shocked the world.  The Tory government of Prime Minister Edward Heath launched a hasty “investigation” led by Chief Justice Lord Widgery.  The report, rushed out in less than two months completely exonerated the Army despite and despite huge numbers of eye witnesses, film, and photograph, concluded that the Army had come under attack and that at least some of the dead had been carrying weapons.

Bernadette Devlin, by then an independent socialist Member of Parliament, was barred by the Speaker from giving her eyewitness account of the events, despite an explicit rule of the House of Commons permitting members to speak on events that they witnessed.  When Home Secretary Reginald Maudling rose to claim Army forces had fired in self defense, Devlin punched him in the mouth.  She was suspended from Parliament.  

As part of the 1998 peace process, a new inquiry was launched under Lord Seville.  The Seville commission included members from Canada and Australia to insure neutrality.  More than 500 individuals were interviewed through 2004.  Despite the refusal of the Army to provide their films and photographs, including footage shot from a helicopter overhead and claims—later proven untrue—that all of the weapons used by the troops that day had been lost or destroyed, the commission went forward.  

At a record shattering cost of £195 million a final report was finally issued on June 15, 2010.  The conclusion:  “The firing by soldiers of 1 PARA on Bloody Sunday caused the deaths of 13 people and injury to a similar number, none of whom was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury” and that no stones, Molotov cocktails, or nail bombs were thrown at troops.  One member of the Official IRA may have fired his pistol only after the troops began shooting.

Surprise, surprise.

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