Socialist Worker

Top brass decided that it was time to ‘shoot selected ringleaders’

Issue No. 2206

The Bloody Sunday operation was devised at a very high level to stage an unprecedented confrontation.

A month before Bloody Sunday, General Harry Tuzo, the army commander in Northern Ireland, told the then Tory government that, “a choice had to be made between accepting that Creggan and Bogside were areas where the army was not able to go, or to mount a major operation which would involve, at some stage, shooting at unarmed civilians.”

On 7 January 1972 General Robert Ford declared in a memo to Tuzo, “I am coming to the conclusion that the minimum force necessary is to shoot selected ringleaders among the Derry young hooligans after clear warnings have been issued.

“I am convinced that our duty to restore law and order requires us to consider this step.” At Downing Street four days later prime minister Ted Heath told his cabinet, “A military operation to reimpose law and order would be a major operation necessarily involving numerous civilian casualties.”

After Bloody Sunday the British state at the highest level proclaimed that the killings were neither wrong nor illegal.

The government also made a shift to a policy of intensified repression. It spectacularly backfired.

Far from ending resistance, the massacre sparked further revolt. The parliament of Northern Ireland, which had existed since partition in 1921, had to be abolished eight weeks after the massacre.

The massacre fuelled continuing bloodshed. In the course of the conflict in Northern Ireland, police and soldiers killed 357 people.

About 150 of these were members of Republican paramilitary organisations, not all of whom were armed at the time. Some 189 of the victims were unarmed civilians.

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