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.