David McKittrick: What Really Happened on Bloody Sunday?





[David McKittrick is an award-winning Ireland correspondent for the Independent.]

Given it will stretch to several million words, Lord Saville's report on Bloody Sunday is bound to contain surprises when it is finally published.

The exhaustive document will be handed to Shaun Woodward, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, in a week's time and the findings are likely to be made public a few days later. If it concludes that the 14 people who were killed in Londonderry's Bogside on that fateful January day in 1972 had guns or bombs on them, it will create a sensation.

This would be because, firstly, all the years of hearings and hundreds of witnesses have failed to produce convincing evidence to back up allegations that those killed were gunmen and bombers. Secondly, two former British prime ministers, one Conservative and one Labour, have already exonerated those killed. In 1992, John Major said the dead "should be regarded as innocent of any allegation that they were shot whilst handling firearms or explosives". This was endorsed by Tony Blair when he set up the inquiry in 1998. In fact, the authorities conceded as far back as the mid-1970s that those shot by the Parachute Regiment were not gunmen or bombers.

Lord Saville will certainly take note of the fact that thousands of people were taking part in an illegal march, troops were attacked with stones and missiles, and several shots were fired by republicans. But no soldiers were killed or injured by gunfire or nail bombs, and no weapons were recovered by the Army. It seems out of the question Lord Saville will conclude there was anything that could come close to justifying the killings.

It is also unlikely that he will give any real credence to various myths, such as the assertion 34 gunmen and bombers were killed by the Army and spirited away for secret burials. That theory was effectively despatched at a hearing by one of the great emblematic figures of the Troubles, the now-retired Catholic bishop Fr Edward Daly. On Bloody Sunday he was a young local priest, crouching and desperately waving a blood-stained handkerchief, seeking safe passage from troops as a fatally injured youth was carried away. That image will endure in Irish history.

At the hearing, counsel for more than 400 soldiers commended the churchman's honesty and what was described as his record of outspoken opposition to violence. Asked about the supposed secret burials, he gave a curt response: "I think it is offensive nonsense." He also gave an insight into the lasting effects of Bloody Sunday when he described visiting young people in prison. Many of them told him, he recalled, that they would never have become involved in the IRA if it had not been for the events of that day. Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein confirmed in his memoirs how it had swelled republican ranks. "Money, guns and recruits flooded into the IRA," he wrote...

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