‘No justice’: Northern Ireland celebrates ‘Bloody Sunday’ amid Brexit
Londonderry, Northern Ireland – The Northern Irish city of Londonderry commemorates one of the darkest days in modern UK history on Sunday when, 50 years ago, British troops opened fire without provocation on civil rights protesters.
The anniversary of ‘Bloody Sunday’ comes with a fragile peace in Northern Ireland destabilized by Brexit and families of the victims disheartened about whether the soldiers involved will ever face trial.
Charlie Nash saw his 19-year-old cousin William Nash killed by one of more than 100 high-velocity shells fired by members of the British Parachute Regiment on January 30, 1972.
“We thought there might be riots, but nothing, nothing like what happened. We first thought it was rubber bullets,” said Nash, now 73.
“But then we saw Hugh Gilmour (one of the six 17-year-old victims) lying dead. We couldn’t take him. Everyone was running,” he said.
“It’s important for the rest of the world to see what they did to us that day. But will we ever see justice? Never, especially not from Boris Johnson.
The British Prime Minister this week called Bloody Sunday a “tragic day in our history”. But his government is pushing legislation that critics say amounts to an amnesty for all killings in Northern Ireland’s three decades of sectarian unrest, including by security forces.
Thirteen protesters died on Bloody Sunday, when paratroopers opened fire in narrow streets and across open wastelands.
Some of the victims were shot in the back, or while on the ground, or while waving white handkerchiefs.
At the entrance to the Catholic Bogside area of the city stands a wall which normally proclaims in large print: “You are now entering Free Derry.
But this weekend, as relatives of the victims prepare to retrace the 1972 civil rights march, the mural reads: ‘There is no British justice’.
After an initial government report largely exonerated paratroopers and authorities, a 12-year, 5,000-page landmark investigation found in 2010 that the victims were unarmed and posed no threat, and that the commander of the soldiers on the ground had violated his orders.
“We in the investigation have come to the conclusion that the shooting was unjustified and unjustifiable,” its chairman Mark Saville, a former judge and member of the British House of Lords, told BBC radio on Saturday.
“And I understand, people feel that in these circumstances justice has not yet been served,” he said, while expressing concern that with the surviving soldiers now aging, the government should have launched lawsuits “a very long time ago”.
Then as now, Londonderry – known as Derry to pro-Irish nationalists – was a predominantly Catholic city. But housing, jobs and education were separated in favor of the pro-British Protestant minority.
Simmering tensions over inequality made Londonderry the birthplace of the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland from the late 1960s, which finally came to an end with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Britain’s divorce from the European Union shook the fragile post-1998 consensus.
Protestant unionists want Johnson’s government to scrap a protocol governing post-Brexit trade for Northern Ireland, which treats the province differently from the British mainland (comprising England, Scotland and Wales).
The government, which is in protracted talks with the EU on the issue, is responsive to their demands.
As regional elections approach in May, some nationalists hope Brexit could help achieve what the Irish Republican Army (IRA) never did – a united Ireland, a century after the UK created a small Protestant state in the north.
Sinn Fein, once the political wing of the IRA, is ahead of the once dominant trade unionists in the opinion polls.
“Northern Ireland finds itself once again in the eye of a political storm where we appear to be collateral damage for a prime minister whose future hangs in the balance,” said Londonderry resident Professor Deirdre Heenan. who teaches social policy at the University of Ulster.
“The government’s behavior around the peace process has been reckless in the extreme,” she added.
Protestant hardliners have issued their own reminders of their stance: ahead of the anniversary, Parachute Regiment flags flew in a Unionist stronghold in Londonderry, to the revulsion of nationalists.
“How can they do this, this weekend of all weekends? They are innocent boys killed by the Paras,” said George Ryan, 61, a tour guide and local historian.
“Will any of the soldiers ever show up in court?” he added.
“It seems more unlikely than ever, but it’s more important than ever.”
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