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Bloody Sunday (Northern Ireland 1972)

On Sunday January 30, 1972, in an incident since known as Bloody Sunday, twenty-seven people were shot by British soldiers during a disturbance that followed a civil rights march in the Bogside[?] area of the city of Derry, Northern Ireland.

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The Perspectives and Analyses on the Day

Thirteen people were shot dead, with another man later dying of his wounds. The official army position was that the Paratroopers had reacted to the threat of gunmen and nail-bombs from suspected IRA members. However many marchers and residents of the Bogside and British and Irish journalists covering the march and witnessed the events unfold challenge the armies account; These claims include soldiers fired indiscriminately into the crowd, or were aiming at fleeing people and those tending the wounded. In the rage that followed, the British embassy in Merrion Square in Dublin was burned by an irate crowd. Anglo-Irish relations hit one of their lowest ebbs, with Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Patrick Hillery, going specially to the United Nations in New York to demand UN involvement in the Northern Ireland troubles.

In the immediate aftermath of Bloody Sunday, the British government under Prime Minister Edward Heath established a commission of inquiry under the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Widgery[?]. His quickly-produced report supported the army analysis of the events of the day, to the extent of implying on the basis of scientific evidence that some of those shot had handled explosives. Those present that day on the march and Nationalists disputed the report's conclusions.

The Saville Tribunal

A second commission of inquiry was recently established to re-examine 'Bloody Sunday'. The Saville Tribunal[?] is engaged in a far more wide-ranging study, interviewing all the key witnesses; the locals, soldiers, journalists, politicians, etc. While its report has not been written (indeed the new tribunal continues to sit, and is expected to continue for a number of years), evidence so far has severely undermined the credibility of the original Widgery Tribunal[?] report. The scientific basis for the claims regarding the alleged involvement of those shot in handling explosives has already been fatally undermined, with the discovery that some bodies were placed next to guns and explosives, while other substances (including playing cards) have been found to leave the same residue on people's hands as that which would be got from explosives. Even the scientists responsible for the original reports to the Widgery Tribunal now dismiss their own findings, and the interpretation put on their findings. While the chair of the current Tribunal, Lord Saville[?], has declined to comment on the Widgery report, and indeed has made the point that the Saville Inquiry is an inquiry into 'Bloody Sunday', not the Widgery Tribunal, he and his fellow judges have implicitly dismissed the Widgery report by refusing to defend it or trust anything it says.

The prevailing view across the two communities is that the much more thorough Saville Tribunal is throwing new and disturbing light on the behaviour of the Parachute Regiment in Derry that day. Few today take the report of the Widgery Tribunal seriously as an accurate factual analysis of what happened on 'Bloody Sunday'.

The Impact of 'Bloody Sunday' on Northern Ireland Divisions

Whatever truly happened that day, all sides are agree that 'Bloody Sunday' marked a major negative turning point in the fortunes of Northern Ireland. When they arrived in Northern Ireland, the British Army was welcomed by Nationalists and Catholics as their protectors, there to protect them from the B-Specials[?], a paramilitary unit associated with the Royal Ulster Constabulary. After 'Bloody Sunday', many Nationalists and Catholics distrusted the army, seeing it no longer as their protectors but as their enemies. Young Nationalists became increasingly attracted to splinter republican groups. With the Official IRA and Official Sinn Féin having moved away from mainstream Irish nationalism/republicanism towards Marxism, a new breakaway organisation. the Provisional IRA, appeared and gained the support of newly radicalised, disaffected young people.

In the following twenty years, the Provisional IRA and other smaller republican groups such as the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) mounted a campaign of what they described as 'war' on the 'British' (by which they meant the RUC, the British Army, the Ulster Defence Regiment (of the British Army) and the Protestant and Unionist community). With rival paramilitary organisations appearing on both the nationalist/republican and unionist/loyalist communities (the Irish National Liberation Army, a republican rival to the Provos, the Ulster Defence Association, Ulster Freedom Fighters, etc on the loyalist side), a bitter and brutal war took place that cost the lives of thousands. Terrorist outrages involved such acts as the killing of a Catholic pop band, the Miami Showband[?], by loyalists (who took them out of their van after a concert and shot them) to the massacre by the Provos of World War veterans and their families attending a war wreath laying in Enniskillen and the blowing up of a young child at Warrington in Britain.

With the official cessation of violence by some of the major terrorist organisations, and the creation of the power-sharing executive at Stormont Parliament Buildings in Belfast under the Good Friday Agreement, the Saville Tribunal's re-examination of what remains one of the blackest days in Northern Ireland for the British Army offers a chance to heal the wounds left by the events of the notorious 'Bloody Sunday' in January 1972.

Artistic Reaction

This incident has been commemorated in the popular protest song by U2, "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" in which the song begins by expressing the anger of the singer at the events before evolving into a call for all christians, both Catholic and Protestant in Northern Ireland to abandon sectarianism[?] and "claim the victory Jesus won, on a Sunday, Bloody Sunday" (ie to fight to achieve a genuinely Christian society through Jesus Christ's victory over death in the resurrection on Easter Sunday).

The events of the day have also been dramatized in the 2002 film, Bloody Sunday. Its portrayal of events is much closer to the opinion of the protestors than the official explanation of events offered by the British army

External Links

The Events of the Day

Contemporary Newspaper coverage

Importance and impact

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