Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ballymurphy to Bogside; extra ghosts at the Saville inquiry

THE Saville Inquiry into the events of 'Bloody Sunday' in Derry has finally published its findings.

On January 30, 1972, twenty-seven people were shot by soldiers of the British Army's Parachute Regiment ordered to stop a civil rights demonstration in the Bogside area. Thirteen men, seven of them teenagers, died immediately. Another man died four and a half months later. The Army claimed at the time that its men were fired upon and returned the fire.

The Saville Inquiry, which has been accepted by the British government, found that all of those shot were unarmed, and that the killings were "unjustified and unjustifiable." Five of those wounded were shot in the back.

Rather than try to separate stone-throwing youth from the main, peaceful crowd, troops opened fire on all, chasing people through a housing estate. Jack Duddy, 17, was killed by a single bullet to the chest in the courtyard of Rossville Flats. Witnesses said that he was unarmed and running away from soldiers. Pat Doherty, 31, was shot from behind while trying to crawl to safety in the vicinity of the flats' forecourt, between the building and Joseph Place. He was killed with a single bullet. Photographs show that he was not armed.

Barney McGuigan was going to the aid of Patrick Doherty while signalling with a white handkerchief when he was killed by a bullet fired through the back of his head. He died where he fell near the corner of the flats between Rossville Street and Joseph Place. He was41.

So it went on. The inquiry goes into detail to try and identify which soldiers fired which shots, and and in what circumstances. It rejects the claim that the soldiers were returning fire or were even under threat from the demonstrators.

• "None of the casualties shot by soldiers of Support Company was armed with a firearm or (with the probable exception of Gerald Donaghey) a bomb of any description. None was posing any threat of causing death or serious injury. In no case was any warning given before soldiers opened fire," the report said.

• Evidence from soldiers to the inquiry that they had fired after coming under attack was rejected. "We have concluded that none of them fired in response to attacks or threatened attacks by nail or petrol bombers. No one threw or threatened to throw a nail or petrol bomb at the soldiers on Bloody Sunday."

• The credibility of the accounts given by the soldiers was "materially undermined" because all soldiers bar one who were responsible for the casualties "insisted that they had shot at gunmen or bombers, which they had not". Saville said: "Many of these soldiers have knowingly put forward false accounts in order to seek to justify their firing".

Saville points not only to lies by soldiers but failings by the officers, who unleashed their men without regard for whether they were chasing innocent civilians and not "terrorists", and then sought to justify the shootings by claiming they had been under attack.

Politicians and top brass are expressing horror now at any suggestion there might be prosecutions in the wake of the Saville inquiry. It would be unfair now that IRA men have been released they say, forgetting that the IRA has decommissioned its weapons, something that is taking Loyalist groups a little longer. It would have a bad effect on the morale of our boys in Afghanistan, is another argument I've heard. Why, are they getting orders to massacring people there? Forgetting, incidentally, that the Derry massacre shocked people here because, whatever the IRA might have said, we were told the city was Londonderry, and British soil. So the people killed were British citizens. And if the army could do that there, why not in Dundee or Doncaster, Birmingham or Bristol?

So the British government has held not one, but two inquiries, the first under Lord Widgery being seen as a whitewash and now this one, setting blame, but long years after. And while it blames soldiers and even officers, its finger seems to stop at a certain level. Saville has rejected the contention that the state had authorised the troops to use "unwarranted lethal force" or sanctioned them "with reckless disregard as to whether such force was used". It also rejected the idea that the government had more generally "tolerated, if not encouraged" the use of unjustified lethal force in Northern Ireland, thereby creating the conditions which led to the Bloody Sunday attacks.

So are the politicians really concerned about protecting soldiers, or anxious to avoid questions being asked of themselves?

Why was it decided, and by whom, that a peaceful civil rights march should not be allowed that Sunday? Why was a combat unit, like the Parachute Regiment, put into what should have been a policing role, and apparently psyched up to believe they were under attack, then let loose on civilians? Did it never occur to those in charge of "law and order" that if you treat people, particularly the young, as dangerous "terrorists", they may decide to become just that, throwing away their placards and even stones for the chance to take up an armalite, and even up the score a little?

Saville's rejection of the accusation that the British government "tolerated if not encouraged" the use of unjustified lethal force may have been easier because his inquiry forbade the mention of one name, that of a district in West Belfast, called Ballymurphy.

What happened there on three days in August, 1971, five months before Bloody Sunday, might suggest a different light on matters. It was on Monday, August 9 that year that the British government introduced internment without trial in northern Ireland. That morning, a number of women in Ballymurphy went to the police and army posts to ask where their menfolk were being taken, but they were turned away. Some youths started rioting, and there was some trouble with Protestants nearby who were allegedly driving Catholic families from their homes.

In Springfield Park, a local man who was trying to lift children to safety was shot and wounded. People who tried to go to his aid were deterred by army gunfire. Parish priest Father Hugh Mullen took out a white cloth to wave as he tried to reach the wounded man. As he knelt to assist him he was shot. Another man, Frank Quinn, who came out to help Father Mullen was shot dead.

About the same time, troops opened fire on some people gathered on waste ground, wounding a young man called Noel Philips. Mrs.Joan Conolly, who saw him go down, tried to reach him, and an army sniper took off the side of her face. The following day Eddie Doherty was shot in the back as he made his way home. Two more men were shot on August 11. The Army claimed they had been armed and firing at soldiers. No evidence was found that they or anyone else killed in Ballymurphy - 11 in those three days -was carrying weapons or had used them. Paddy McCarthy, a community worker, was trying to deliver bread and milk to families afraid to leave their homes when he was wounded. Later he died of a heart attack while in army hands.

The British Army unit involved in the Ballymurphy shootings was the Parachute Regiment. Some of the soldiers were later identified as being on duty in Derry, in the Bloody Sunday massacre. The Ballymurphy killings were scarcely reported at the time, and the official version was that soldiers had exchanged fire with gunmen - even though no soldiers were injured, and no guns were found by the victims. Some of the children orphaned by the shootings were given refuge in the South, but had to endure gibes that "your daddy was a terrorist".

At the annual conference of trades union councils in Blackpool last month, a delegation of women from Ballymurphy, led by Joan Connolly's daughter, who had only been a little girl when she saw her mother killed, spoke about their fight for truth and justice. They told us that when someone tried to say something about Ballymurphy during the Bloody Sunday inquiry they were warned that if it was mentioned again the inquiry would be halted.

The Ballymurphy relatives are seeking an independent, international enquiry. They also want the British government to acknowledge that those killed were innocent.


www.relativesforjustice. com

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