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How Long Must We Sing This Song?
Why the wound left by Bloody Sunday will ache for as long as the State refuses to acknowledge the truth of what happened that fateful day.
Eamonn McCann, 13 Apr 2010
Why Bloody Sunday? There have been bigger death tolls. Fifteen Catholics in McGurk’s Bar in the New Lodge the previous month. Eighteen paras at Warrenpoint in 1979.
Numbers apart, was not the killing of 11 Protestants as they stood in reverent silence around the Enniskillen war memorial in 1989 every inch as wicked and cruel as the Bogside massacre?
So why the 12-year, £200 million inquiry into Bloody Sunday? The question is asked and the comparisons cited with new intensity as publication of the report of the Saville Tribunal looms.
One difference about Derry is that in every other atrocity with which Bloody Sunday is compared, the victims are acknowledged, more or less universally, as having been wrongly done to death and the perpetrators damned as wrongdoers.
But the Bloody Sunday families were told in their bereavement that while they might personally understandably lament the loss of a loved one, they had no wider ground for grievance and no legitimate expectation of the killers being punished.
The state stood by its own, and the Bloody Sunday dead were thereby diminished. Liam Wray, brother of Jim, 22, shot in the back at point-blank range as he lay wounded in Glenfada Park, commented: “To say that Bloody Sunday wasn’t murder was to say that my brother was less than fully human.” The fact that this second injustice had been inflicted by the official custodian of constitutional truth, Lord Chief Justice Widgery, drove the insult deep.
Bloody Sunday, moreover, to an extent that isn’t true of other atrocities which litter our past, proved a pivotal plot-point in the narrative of the Troubles. Generally, the sharing of heartache in the wake of mass killings has tended to dissipate over time, the lives of the families left behind likely shattered forever, but public life not discernibly changed.
But the paras’ action in Derry catapulted the Bogside and other Catholic-Nationalist districts across the North outside all notions of constitutionality, with dramatic effect on the trajectory of political events. The Stormont parliament, established with partition in 1921, was abolished by stroke of the pen of Westminster authority eight weeks later.