Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bloody Sunday; Cameron apology helps as victims exonerated

It's taken Lord Saville 12 years to hear all the evidence and compile a report that's 5000 pages long, so I feel I need to be a bit careful about commenting on the events of Bloody Sunday in a quick blog post.

I thought the House of Commons was at its most grown up this afternoon as David Cameron made his statement, revealing the dreadful conclusion of the Saville Report, that 13 British citizens had been killed by the British Army in an act that was "unjustified and unjustifiable".

I didn't agree with everything that David Cameron said this afternoon in the House of Commons but I feel that he went with a good attitude. He was about 5 years old when this happened, and so was his Deputy PM - and so was I for that matter. I'm glad that he clearly and unequivocally delivered a genuine apology on behalf of the Government for the mistakes that were made. There was no weaselly use of language, no trying to wiggle out of it, just a very clear and straightforward "I am deeply sorry".

Governments have traditionally been slow to apologise for the actions of their own or their predecessors' mistakes. I'm just glad that a Conservative Prime Minister, of all things, was sensitive enough to the needs of the families and other people in Derry this afternoon, to say, with feeling, the words that they required.

One thing that Cameron said kind of worried me - basically that this would be the last time we'd spend so much on such a huge enquiry. This needed looking into, though, and if there is a similar issue which deserves such scrutiny, then the Government's and agents' of Government's actions have to be properly investigated. I'm not saying it should last 12 years and cost £200 million, but the Government has to be properly accountable. Let's hope, though, that nothing like this ever happens again.

I really felt for those families today. I was struck by the fact that it was nieces, and daughters and sons and brothers of those who died that day who came forward to proclaim their innocence in front of the Guildhall. The parents had not lived to see the day that had exonerated their children 38 years ago and I felt especially sad that they had not received the little bit of peace that today would have given them.

I have to say that if I had been in Derry at that time, I would have felt minded to be on that march, against the practice of internment. I think it is a pretty shameful part of our history that authorities acting in our name arrested people they suspected of being in proscribed organisations and kept them locked up without trial.

Bloody Sunday was just one violent day in a violent 38 years for Northern Ireland. Many, many innocent people lost their lives in all communities and I have the same sympathy for all of their families. Nobody in 1972 would ever have envisaged a DUP/Sinn Fein coalition running Northern Ireland. That situation took too long to bring about, and the events of Bloody Sunday only made things much worse.

I remember as a 9 year old hoping that the peace movement, set up by Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan, would bring a swift end to the violence. I remember being awed by the work that those women did at the time, at the huge crowds on the streets asking for peace.

The work towards peace and reconciliation is an ongoing work and I'm just grateful to everyone who has played a role, however unlikely, in bringing the current situation about.

I was struck by something Labour MP David Cairns said in the House of Commons today, talking about how the main issue in the General Election in Northern Ireland was water rates, and that was a sign of how much progress had been made.

For all those who are calling for the prosecution of the soldiers involved, I just feel that we have to be quite careful what we say. Politicians shouldn't be making decisions on who to prosecute - the judicial and political systems are separate for a good reason. Every case has to be decided on the evidence and it's the Northern Ireland Prosecution Service which is the appropriate body to make those decisions. I am certainly sympathetic, though, to the soldiers involved being stripped of any medals now that a major investigation has said that their actions that day were wrong.

I hope that Stephen, who wrote about Bloody Sunday today from the point of view of a child growing up County Down, feels that today's report will enable Northern Ireland to take another step forward in its peace process.

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