British Paratroopers deliberately murdering unarmed civilians as they desperately try to run away or crawl to safety. This is what people who watched the recent TV dramas Bloody Sunday and Sunday would have seen.
They powerfully recounted the events in Derry in Northern Ireland 30 years ago. Bloody Sunday is now on in a number of cinemas across the country. Anyone who watched the programmes would have felt moved and outraged by the terror the Paras inflicted on ordinary working class people. That sense was magnified a thousand times for those who lived through the events.
There was a wave of revolt after Bloody Sunday in both the North and South of Ireland, in Britain and in cities around the world. There were strikes, protests and riots across Northern Ireland. In every major town thousands stopped work and marched, protesting at and occupying British-owned businesses. In Derry there was a three-day strike. Riots broke out in Catholic areas across Northern Ireland.
A week after Bloody Sunday 50,000 defied a ban and marched in Newry. It was the biggest demonstration in the North of Ireland for 50 years. In Southern Ireland thousands immediately gathered in angry protest outside the British embassy in Dublin. Thousands of workers responded to a call for a three-day general strike. Factories, schools and shops closed. Dockers in Sligo refused to unload coal from a Scottish ship.
Delegations of striking workers marched to the British embassy. In Cork for three days running 10,000 people marched, bringing factories, docks, schools and shops to a standstill.
THERE WERE similar protests in cities and towns across Southern Ireland. Such was the anger that Irish prime minister Jack Lynch was forced to declare 2 February, the day of the victims’ funerals, a public holiday. More than 100,000 people marched that day in one of the biggest protests ever seen in Dublin. They burned the British embassy to the ground. Some 15,000 people joined a march of nearly ten miles from Cricklewood to Whitehall in London. The police viciously attacked the demo.
They baton-charged peaceful protesters in Whitehall, arresting 122 people. Socialists played a central role in the protests. Derry socialist Eamonn McCann was one of the organisers of the civil rights march on that day, and was portrayed in the ITV film Bloody Sunday. He wrote the front page of the next Socialist Worker the day after the massacre:
‘On Monday morning in Rossville Street and in the courtyard behind Glenfada Park, people stood in groups looking at the patches of blood and weeping. We had thought in the Bogside that we had become used to violent death. But there isn’t a human experience which prepares you for what happened.’
Bernadette Devlin, now McAliskey, a socialist and elected Westminster MP, punched the Tory home secretary, Reginald Maudling, in the face the day after Bloody Sunday. She told the hundreds of people gathered at a protest in Hammersmith:
‘Maybe you felt better after I had hit Maudling in the House of Commons. But if you think my fist is going to bring down the Tory government, you’ve got another think coming. The Labour Party certainly isn’t going to do it, and the only people who can do it is you. Look around Britain today and you will see the miners being kicked on their picket lines. So called democracy doesn’t work. Out of 626 elected representatives there was only one-me-who was outraged that the Paratroopers without provocation shot our people in the back. But it is not our function in life to die for Ireland. It is our function to live, work and struggle for a workers’ republic. It is not sympathy or feelings of frustration that are needed now. You must go away determined to organise and act.’
THE BRITISH government tried to cover up the truth of its butchery in Derry from the moment the last shot was fired. The British army claimed it fired because it was shot at by the IRA and that demonstrators were armed with nailbombs. No evidence was ever found.
The government appointed the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Widgery, the highest judge in Britain, to head an inquiry. This was a complete whitewash. Widgery’s report accepted the lie that troops had opened fire after being fired on by the IRA. Widgery totally ignored:
The Derry coroner’s report that British troops committed ‘sheer unadulterated murder’.
Over 500 eyewitness statements taken and collated by civil liberties groups. These included priests, former servicemen and journalists. All agreed that no nailbombs or other weapons were used by any demonstrator before the Paras opened fire.
Tape recordings of the soldiers as they shot into the crowd.
One year later the Tories honoured the commander of the Paras on Bloody Sunday, Derek Wilford, with an OBE.
Michael Rose, responsible for internal army discipline during Bloody Sunday, became one of the top men in the British army and led British troops into Kosovo in 1999. Successive governments continued to cover up the truth about Bloody Sunday. Finally in 1998 the Labour government announced the setting up of a public inquiry under Lord Saville.
Its revelations have confirmed that the orders for the massacre of civilians came from the top of the British establishment with, at the very least, the connivance of the British government. And that is why army chiefs, the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office are still fighting to prevent the full truth from coming to light. As Bernadette Devlin wrote in the introduction to Socialist Worker’s 1972 pamphlet What Happened in Derry:
‘The ruling class respects and recognises only its own power. In defence of ‘democracy’ and ‘peace’ they will break every democratic right, every law, every concept of peace and justice they themselves ever set up.’
The right wing press has screamed against the portrayal of British violence against civilians. Papers like the Daily Mail claim the events of Bloody Sunday were no different to all the other deaths in Northern Ireland. But Bloody Sunday was a deliberate act of mass murder, ordered at the highest levels of government.
The British Tory government wanted to crush the civil rights movement which had flourished in the late 1960s in protest at the second class treatment of Catholics. Just five months before 30 January the Northern Ireland Unionist prime minister, Brian Faulkner, with the backing of the Tories, introduced internment without trial.
Hundreds of Catholics were rounded up, detained and tortured without a shred of evidence. Internment radicalised thousands of people. Bloody Sunday was a decisive moment in the history of Northern Ireland. It meant the end of the civil rights movement. The massacre drove young men and women to join the Provisional IRA. The massive protests and strikes in the aftermath of Bloody Sunday shook the British government.
Within weeks of Bloody Sunday the government replaced the Unionist Stormont parliament with direct rule from Westminster. The new Northern Ireland secretary, William Whitelaw, opened secret negotiations with the IRA. The air force flew six IRA leaders, including Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams, to London to meet with Whitelaw.
But the British government did not want fundamental change. Troops attacked Catholic protesters in Belfast in July. The talks broke down, and the IRA resumed its military struggle. Increasingly Britain relied on army and RUC police hit squads, with their ‘shoot to kill’ policy, to do its dirty work.
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