Bloody Sunday

David  Cameron, a Conservative PM, apologised for Bloody Sunday this week. Do not adjust your set. Here’s my tuppence worth.

Most English people don’t “get” Bloody Sunday. They know it was horrible but they don’t know what it REALLY did to the people of Derry. Thirteen people dead on the day and it changed the lives of many more. IRA support soared and raised the game. All the horror really started then. The Hunger Strikes in the Eighties prolonged it even further. Both events happened during Tory office. During Thatcher’s reign Sinn Fein politicians had their voices dubbed by actors for newscasts, in an attempt to undermine and “starve them of the oxygen of publicity “. Which makes Cameron’s apology all the more startling.

Bertie Ahern has revealed how he told Blair to sanction the Saville Inquiry. It would show willing and get the Peace process rolling. Tony bit the bullet and the Good Friday Agreement happened. If Blair hadn’t backed Bush, and blotted his copy book in Iraq and Afghanistan, he’d have gone down as one of the UK’s greatest Prime Ministers. “The Irish Question” has been a problem for every British government for decades, centuries even. Gladstone, on being informed his Liberal party had won the 1880 Election, famously said; “My mission is to pacify Ireland”.

So, why am I writing about it? My Mum is of Italian stock, raised in Glasgow. My Dad’s from a family of 8, born of an Irishwoman and an English soldier, raised in Derry. My Irish gran was a Heaney from Derry, related to Seamus. I’m not entirely “English”, in looks or culture, despite having grown up in the UK since 1965. I can remember being scared in the Seventies, seeing riots in Derry on the TV: my Granny lives there!

My Dad joined the British Army after university in 1960, flying helicopters with the Royal Artillery Army Air Corps. The Sixties got going and, when the Civil Rights movement emerged in Ireland, he was stationed in a desert somewhere in Africa. Even before Bloody Sunday he was effectively told not to visit Northern Ireland: too dangerous. He went back for my Gran’s 80th birthday, after the Good Friday Agreement, a gap of over 30 years since his last visit. Even then, there were some people not that happy to see him.

All his siblings had left Derry by the early Seventies. Couldn’t wait to get out. One uncle not only remembers the year but the flight number of the plane he left on. My youngest uncle, who’s only 7 years older than me and was on the march, got himself expelled just so he could leave.

Bloody Sunday was a mess. Another uncle remembers coming home from an all-night card game, oblivious to the events of the day. He knew something was wrong when he saw his Mum, my Gran, who’d married an English soldier, spitting at a soldier and screaming “Bastards!” One of her cousins was killed that day. He was on his way to see his pregnant wife at the the hospital; wasn’t even part of the march. The week after he was killed, his wife gave birth to their sixth child. She later went mad. Proper sobbing, rocking-in-the-corner mad.

Decades later I flew to Derry to see Gran on her death bed in a hospice. Cancer. When I arrived there was a priest praying with her. It was Bishop Daly. Back in 1972 he was Father Daly, the priest waving that bloody handkerchief in the famous footage. He’d kept in close touch with my Gran all those years.

When the Saville Inquiry got going my Dad was approached  by the Families of Bloody Sunday to give evidence. As a serving soldier at the time, he was asked to listen to actual tape recordings of the soldiers from the day. His knowledge of call signs and radio protocol was deemed useful in trying to figure what was actually being said. This is a grey area and has been picked over for years. Was a direct order given to open fire? If so, from whom? Was Downing Street complicit in advance? The official version now is that the the shootings were “unjustified and unjustifiable”, regardless of who said what.

My Dad was shit scared giving his evidence. He was witness Number 500 and had his photo on the front of The Irish Times. For him it was a way of atoning for the past – hey, he was in the British Army – but  he also knew the original Widgery version of events was flawed. He always said that sending Paras into the Bogside was asking for trouble. The Paras are not your normal soldiers. They’re fucking hardcore and mean business. The sheer fact they were deployed on the day spoke volumes about how Westminster viewed the situation. It’s hard not to agree with the notion that the Army were told to teach the Paddys a lesson on Bloody Sunday.

And so, all these years later, some sort of closure has been attempted. If nothing else, those killed on the day have been exonerated of any wrong doing. Might not seem like much but, can you imagine being the mother of an unarmed 17 year old son, shot in the back 38 years ago by a soldier, and the official version of events said his death was justified? Try and live a normal life with that monkey on your back.

And that’s pretty much what it’s been like for everyone in Northern Ireland these past forty years. Everybody knows somebody who’s been affected by The Troubles. Conveniently for British governments, there’s the Irish Sea between “Us” and “Them”. If similar events had happened in Wales and Scotland, The Troubles would have lasted about as long as the Falklands war.

I’m not saying that atrocities perpetrated after Bloody Sunday, by both sides, can be excused. There’s the issue now of whether Soldier F, or whomever, should be brought to book. Some people are sickened by seeing Martin McGuiness in office. He was second-in-command of the IRA in Derry on Bloody Sunday.

What I am saying is that the Saville Inquiry has helped heal some wounds. My youngest uncle told me he cried this week. All the old memories came bubbling up, he thought of his Ma, and a dragon had been partly slain.

We go on about 9/11 and 7/7, but people forget what mainland Britain was like in the Seventies. There are still no rubbish bins on Tube station platforms in London’s West End. Why? Easy place for an IRA bomb. That level of dread has ended. OK, we’ve got other problems now, but The Troubles, as they were, have effectively ended.

Truth, reconciliation, whatever you want to call it, is the way forward. Enough lives have been hurt. The Future is Unwritten. The Saville Inquiry is helping to write it.

Tagged : , ,

Leave a Reply