Britain’s Bloody Sunday Deniers

On the afternoon of Sunday the 30th of January 1972 soldiers from the British Parachute Regiment, one of the more fearsome UK military units fighting the insurgency in the north-east of Ireland, attacked a civil rights march in the city of Derry, killing or fatally wounding fourteen civilians and injuring two dozen more in an event the international press quickly dubbed the “Bloody Sunday Massacre”. That same group of paratroopers had carried out a similar murder-spree just months earlier in the city of Belfast, shooting dead eleven people, including a local priest, in a two day reign of terror known as the “Ballymurphy Massacre” of August 1971. Praised by their officers – and British politicians – for their work in the previous slaughter much the same was expected of them in the western city of Derry and sure enough they delivered on those expectations. However, as in Belfast, the war crimes of the Parachute Regiment simply served to increase local support for armed resistance to Britain’s continued presence, in particular for the still nascent (Provisional) Irish Republican Army, contributing to making a temporary conflict all but permanent.

Following a 1998-2010 British government enquiry into the 1972 massacre, which exonerated the dead and wounded, the PSNI, the regional paramilitary police in the north-east of Ireland, launched a murder investigation which has now culminated in the arrest of a former paratrooper present on the day of the mass-killing. This has led to extraordinary outrage in the right-wing British press, with editorial demands that the members of the UK Occupation Forces who served in Ireland during the 1966-2005 “Troubles” be granted full immunity from prosecution. This has been echoed by numerous newspaper columnists and commentators on television and radio, as well as by some Conservative and Labour MPs. What these protests have revealed is the extraordinary lack of knowledge about Irish-British relations in the United Kingdom, including contemporary affairs in “Northern Ireland”. Such things, it seems, continue to be filtered through a prism of prejudice and ignorance that time and technology have done nothing to abate. A wilful disregard for history, for facts, characterises British attitudes to Ireland. Take this error-laden nonsense in the Daily Telegraph from ex-UK military bigwig, Tim Collins, now a “security” hireling, and someone who should know better.

“The events of January 30 1972, now known as Bloody Sunday, proved a watershed in many respects. That day marked the beginning of the long war with the IRA – the point at which the British government was seen to be on the wrong side of the divide in the minds of the vast majority of Northern Irish Roman Catholics. And yet this shouldn’t have been the case: the UK always backed peace and justice.”

Which is a bizarre claim to make given that the civil rights march in Derry was protesting the imprisonment of hundreds of men and boys without charge or trial in concentration camps like Long Kesh (the infamous H-Blocks) or on converted ocean-going hulks like HMS Maidstone, where detainees were locked below-decks like feral animals. Justice certainly had little to do with the mass internment of civilian populations or the use of torture-centres such as the one hidden away in the sprawling grounds of the Ballykelly military base, County Derry, where “special techniques” of interrogation were practised on selected victims (and later copied by the United States for use in Bagram, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and various “black sites” around the world).

Of course one could also mention that a majority of people on the island of Ireland had democratically voted for independence, free of partition, in 1918, 1920 and 1921, three plebiscite-elections that the UK responded to with violence, bloodshed and the imposition of an unwanted border. Though given that British memories apparently struggle to go as far back as the 1970s, significant events from the 1920s might be a bit of a stretch for most.

“…the Saville inquiry found that the IRA fired the first shots on the day – and the soldiers reacted as they were trained. The result was a disaster. A disaster founded on the IRA hijacking a peaceful rally to murder soldiers. Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein and their military wing, the IRA, could not have imagined in their wildest, most murderous, dreams the result they were handed. Nor the rewards they are still reaping”

No, the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army did not fire the first shots of Bloody Sunday. The Saville report stated, explicitly, that the first shots fired on the day were by the troops of the Parachute Regiment, and that the (Official) Irish Republican Army fired a handful of shots in response to the actions of the British. Collins’ claims are bald-faced lies.

“For the arrest of this soldier, with the promise of more to come, isn’t about peace and justice. It’s about politics – and the fragile state of accord in Northern Ireland. It’s a bone thrown to a petulant Sinn Fein to tempt them back into the Northern Ireland Assembly with some credibility intact, and a way to silence the Unionists as they see former British soldiers arrested. Essentially, it is an attempt to keep the power-sharing agreement on track, using the soldiers as pawns.”

Sinn Féin is already in the regional “Northern Ireland Assembly”. It never left it. Why would unionist politicians be silenced by the sight of former British soldiers being arrested? The detention has had the exact opposite reaction, as anyone with half-a-brain could predict. I’m sure the right-wing and ultra-nationalist readers of the Daily Telegraph may lap up this poison like a rabid dog with a bowl of water but it doesn’t mean the rest of need partake of the Medicine Show concoction that Tim Collins is selling. In the British war upon the Irish it is truth that is always the first casualty.

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12 comments

  1. wrote a post about this very subject yesterday but took it down; I was too angry when I wrote it. I’m glad cooler heads prevailed. What I find interesting (or disgusting)is that it took from 72 to 2015 to make one arrest, after the bad joke of the Widgery Tribunal and the the twelve year trek of the Saville Report. And now you have a 66 year old war criminal out on bail the day after his arrest. Reminds me very much of Nazi war criminals whom Germany failed to prosecute until they were too “demented” or infirm to stand trial or be sent to prison. This is all just another whitewash.

    1. As far as I know this “War Criminal” hasn’t been charged, or brought before a court yet, therefore he is presumed innocent until evidence is brought against him and he is proved guilty. If he and others are brought before a court and convicted then I would be delighted and have no problem in designating them as such. As the I.R.A. killed far more Irish people during “The Troubles” than the British Army, it would also be good if a lot of their people could be put through a similar process.
      I must confess I’ll eat my car if anyone is convicted for Bloody Sunday, or anyone is convicted for numerous past Republican atrocities like Enniskillen, Claudy, etc, etc. I’m afraid the health of the “peace process” always trumps the concerns of victims on whatever side.

      1. Fair points, though I’ve always advocated for a general amnesty for all actions committed between 1966-2005, preferably if various parties to the conflict were to agree to some sort of truth-seeking commission to facilitate those who wished to discover the circumstances of their loved ones deaths or injuries. It’s that or simply follow the post-Civil War practice in the 1930s and leave well enough alone. I certainly don’t think old men or women should be dragged before courts or tribunals. Let all this stuff be fought out through public discourse, if necessary, and let history make its own judgement.

        I would like to know the identity of the war criminals at Claudy or Darkely. For certain at least.

        1. “Fair points, though I’ve always advocated for a general amnesty for all actions committed between 1966-2005, preferably if various parties to the conflict were to agree to some sort of truth-seeking commission to facilitate those who wished to discover the circumstances of their loved ones deaths or injuries. ”

          Good point. What did they have to call it in Spain? The Pact of Forgetting? There comes a point when it is too far back in the past for the police to do anything about it. Spain had to get over a trauma a thousand times worse than Norn Iron: it is now a functioning civil society.

  2. “Of course one could also mention that a majority of people on the island of Ireland had democratically voted for independence, free of partition, in 1918, 1920 and 1921, three plebiscite-elections that the UK responded to with violence, bloodshed and the imposition of an unwanted border.”

    For possibly the tenth time, Sinn Fein got 46.5% of the vote on a 51.8% turnout in 1918. Score was 46.5% SF 25% Unionist, 23% Nationalist, with the rest going to Ind Unionists and Labour Unionist candidates. About 77% of the eligible electorate did not cast a vote for SF. Total combined vote for pro Union candidates was 29%: absolute max % of Protestants was 24%, not all of whom voted Unionist: Casement, Ernie Blythe, Countess M etc – which means either the Protestant turnout was significantly higher than the Catholic, or that a significant minority of Catholics voted Unionist – or both. Leaving the Prods completely out of the equation, the Catholic vote probably split roughly 55% Sinn Fein, 38% Nationalist, 7% Unionist.

    The Catholic middle class basically remained loyal to the Parliamentary Party – or voted for pro Union candidates

    1. And possibly for the eleventh time, Sinn Féin candidates were returned uncontested in twenty-five constituencies where no one opposed their election, that is in addition to the forty-eight seats the party contested and won over rival candidates, giving SF 73 seats out of 105 seats, or 76% of elected/returned MPs in the general election of 1918. The true percentage of the party’s vote, if it had also contested those 25 constituencies, would have been between 72% (minimum) and 80% (maximum) of the overall votes cast in 1918 (and if it had contested four IPP seats – agreed with the IPP – it would almost certainly have taken a further two seats for itself). There is not a single historian of the 1918 election who disagrees with those estimates.

      This vote also represents the vastly increased electorate in 1918 versus the previous election eight years earlier in 1910, the number of eligible voters effectively trebling. Not only did more people vote for Sinn Féin in 1918 than any other party, but more people voted for SF in 1918 than had voted for ALL the parties combined in 1910!

      To illustrate the party’s victory see below:

  3. England (try to imagine this picture without Scotland and wales) looked like this after the 1983 election: Maggie got 43% of the vote. This is the type of perverse result you get from the 1st past the post elect syst.

    1. Oh, I quite agree. FPTP is a terrible system. PR, in whatever reasonable form, will always best it as a truer refection of people’s political preferences. IF PR had been in use in 1918 it would have been a fascinating result. I’ve seen two speculative extrapolations based on the 1918 figures, however both authors admitted it was pretty much just for fun. It’s too difficult a thing to parse. I believe one actually speculated that PR would have made things far worse for unionists, in terms of returned MPs, by upping the IPP vote at their expense, while SF would have been only minimally effected.

  4. I reckon you won’t need to put that up the 11th time John, the 2nd map is fairly self-explanatory.

  5. If there had been PR the score would have been something like 35 Unionist/Labour Unionist seats, 25 IPP and 50 Sinn Fein

    1. I’ve seen different figures, more favourable to SF than that and using the STV PR system that was introduced by the UK in 1921, which was purposefully designed by the British to prevent a further SF majority of MPs/TDanna. It failed of course when SF deputies were returned for 124 out of 128 seats in the 26 Cos. Both sets of statisticians said it was impossible to make a real calculation because of the way PR works in reality.

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