Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Saville Report

My apologies as I am blogging late on this one but it has been one of those weeks. Last week the findings of the long awaited Saville inquiry were released. For my readers who are not from this part of the world allow me to offer some background. In January 1972 an incident occurred in the Northern Irish City of Derry (my mothers home town) which had a long lasting affect on the 30 year conflict known as "the Troubles". British soldiers of the parachute regiment opened fire on demonstrators who were participating in a civil rights (for Catholics) march. 26 were shot, 14 were killed.

Father Daly, now Bishop Daly waves a blood soaked hanker chief as he tries to lead the body of demonstrator John Duddy to safety

The Saville inquiry, set up by Tony Blair in 1998 declared last week what all honest people already knew to be true, that the 26 shot were innocent. None had weapons and some were even bystanders who had not been involved in the march. About half of those killed, particularly the youths were probably rioters. The other half were murdered after the order was given to take people out in response to the unrest. Some of these victims were hiding in alley ways and crawling to safety when they were gunned down.

For many years afterward the families of the victims had to listen to reports from the fraudulant Widgery Tribunal that their loved ones killed were terrorists. This is perhaps the worst insult of all. The Saville report completely clears them all of any wrong doing and lays the blame firmly at the door of the Paras.

David Cameron explains the findings of the Saville Report before offering an unconditional apology on behalf of the British Government.

There were over 3000 people killed in the Troubles. The people murdered that day were not more innocent than the many others killed over the 30 years. However had it not been for the murderous acts of the paras that day there would be many more living today (including many of their comrades) than the 14 shot in the Bogside. As a result of bloody Sunday hundreds of intelligent professional men and women, with no criminal records joined the IRA. This prolonged the troubles and contributed to its ferocity. If nothing else, Bloody Sunday teaches us that if you fight a counter insurgency in a clumsy manner, you will created more terrorists that you defeat.

The IRA campaign and the sectarian slaughter that it triggered can never be justified. Northern Ireland today is a democratic place where the rights of all sides are guaranteed. No argument has ever convinced me that the IRA campaign of murder contributed to the transition of Northern Ireland from and institutionally sectarian state to the more pluralistic democracy that it is today. Everything that has been achieved today, could have been achieved without a bullet being fired. The IRA have no legitimate claim to occupy the moral high ground in the wake of this report. As Kevin Myers put it in a recent coulmn in the Irish Independent in which he lambasted the Paras in unusually strong terms for him before stating

So I want no lectures about Para brutality from those whited sepulchres of Sinn Fein-IRA, whose murders were far more terrible than anything the Parachute Regiment did

The British actions in Derry that day were not only wrong because it was murder of the innocent. It was wrong because it was a tactical disaster. What did they think it would achieve. Did they think it would silence a people who have a history of resisting the British presence in Ireland for nearly 800 years. The actions of the British that day are one of the reasons that I believe still to this day that British soldiers do not belong on the island of Ireland. It is not a particularly sophisticated argument. But it is my country. And I don't like foreign troops in it. And listening to the details of how the British Army behaved in my mothers home town that day upsets me. And while I will always believe that the reconciliation of the two traditions on this island is the most noble political goal anyone can have that outweighs all others, I do hope that when both traditions are eventually brought together it will be done om the context of an agreement that excludes completely a British military presence in Ireland.

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