Thousands of people will gather in Derry this weekend to mark the 39th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday massacre.
As the marchers gather at Creggan Shops on Sunday [January 30] to retrace the steps of the original civil rights marchers, as has been done every year since 1972, they will do so knowing a massive weight has been lifted from the shoulders of the families of the dead and injured.
In June last year, decades of determined campaigning by the Bloody Sunday families finally paid off when British prime minister David Cameron was forced to apologise for the actions of his army in January 1972.
The relatives of the dead were vindicated and could, at last, find some peace in the knowledge that Britain had owned up to what Derry and the world have known for so long.
However, the British establishment is nothing if not reticent in its admissions of guilt.
While the Saville Inquiry did, indeed, find that British soldiers deliberately shot dead peaceful civil rights marchers in Derry, it claimed that the buck stopped there. The inquiry exonerated the higher echelons of Britain’s military and political establishment and ruled that the blame lay only with the mass murderers who pulled the triggers, not the mass murderers who called the shots.
The narrative of an out-of-control regiment running amok might have more credibility if Bloody Sunday was an isolated incident. It wasn’t. Months before that, after the introduction of internment in August 1971, the British Parachute Regiment shot dead 11 people, including a mother of eight children and a parish priest, over a 48-hour period in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast.
In the months after Bloody Sunday, the New Lodge and Springhill massacres claimed the lives of more innocent nationalists. Over an 18 month period, encompassing Bloody Sunday, the British army murdered nearly 100 people in the Six Counties with impunity. Taking into account the activities of the RUC, UDR and the unofficial pro-British death squads the total figure for the period is a lot higher.
The reality is that the British army was engaged in a government-sanctioned campaign to crush resistance in the Six Counties, a campaign that included interment, torture, routine brutality and, when the occasion called for it, mass killings.
While Saville didn’t have a remit to rule on other massacres, its findings moved Bloody Sunday out of its proper context in terms of British government strategy.
When David Cameron stood in the House of Commons to apologise for Bloody Sunday, he did so with large caveats attached; namely, that this was his first and last apology in relation to Britain’s role in Ireland and that the bloodbath in Derry was the exception to, rather than general experience of, the British military occupation.
In the months since, other families campaigning for truth and justice have felt the heartbreaking impact of Britain trying to unilaterally draw a line in its own sordid past. The families of the Ballymurphy victims, for example, have been met with a stone wall of indifference by the British state. In their most recent meeting with British secretary of state Owen Patterson, the families of the dead were greeted by the sight of the direct ruler sporting an armband in support of one particular British army regiment.
The victory the Bloody Sunday families won over the British state is made all the more exceptional by that state’s attitude towards the victims of state violence.
It is now time to take up the gauntlet for the families of the Ballymurphy and Springhill dead and for every single family who has lost a loved one as a result of British government policy in Ireland.
So make your way to Derry on Sunday and salute the courage of the Bloody Sunday families. March in memory of the dead and in defiance of British lies. Pledge your solidarity to the families still campaigning for truth and justice. And, remember, every one of us remains without our civil and human rights while our national rights are denied by the British occupation.
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