Monday 19 November 2018

Review: History: Setting the Truth Free by Julieann Campbell and Bloody Sunday by Douglas Murray

Liberties Press,€13.99
Biteback, £20
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The Saville Report, and David Cameron's response, did much to lance the sore of Bloody Sunday for the people of Derry and the families of the victims.

However, divisions over participation in the 40th anniversary march indicate that there are those for whom it will remain unfinished business until the last guilty soldier has been charged and convicted in a court of law.

For the majority, it sufficed that the innocence of the victims as participants in a civil rights march, or as bystanders, should have been declared by Saville (with the odd exception of one young boy on whom nail bombs had been planted after death, whom, despite overwhelming evidence, the judge could not bring himself to exonerate) and vindicated by the prime minister, and that the notorious Widgery Report had been repudiated.

These two fine books should be read in tandem. Both deal with the same sequence of events, from different perspectives, the same characters wander in and out of both, one comes from the heart, the other from the head, one, charged with emotion, but not unrealistic, the other more coolly analytic, but not dispassionate.

Both purport to deal with the Saville Inquiry, both are firmly rooted in the events in Derry to which the narrative returns for validation, explanation and justification (if that is possible).

Julieann Campbell, niece of the first victim, is concerned to describe the struggle of the families of the victims to secure an independent international inquiry to wipe out the stain of the Widgery Report which, in the words of Bishop Daly (a hero in both versions), found the guilty innocent and the innocent guilty.

It is the story of ordinary people doing quite extraordinary things, over decades, in the face of scepticism, internal dissension, popular opposition and snubs from people in high places in church and state. Douglas Murray is more concerned with the processes of the inquiry itself.

Campbell has produced a remarkably moving account of events as they unfold, all the more valuable because it brings on to the stage those wounded on the day, who tend to have been excluded from the general narrative, and the families who have suffered so much.

She recounts a lengthy struggle against the odds, a tribute to the courage and persistence of the survivors. But more than an act of piety, it is important as social history, a study of the destructive impact of violent events on families and communities, of the dynamics of a voluntary organisation and as a handbook for lobbyists.

Murray, while still keeping the victims and families in focus, has produced a riveting account of the Saville Inquiry for which it will serve both as summary and commentary.

He sets the scene with an almost unbearably vivid account of the deaths of Barney McGuigan and Patrick Doherty and recreates the events of the day and attempts to elucidate them through flashbacks to contemporaneous accounts set against the evidence and cross-examination of a range of witnesses.

His narrative is structured around the appearances of family members and superstars such as Bernadette Devlin; Ted Heath; Derek Wilford; Martin McGuinness; and the gunmen of the Paras and the IRA.

Unfortunately the bear-baiting of an aged Ted Heath by counsel for the families, while it might have gratified his clients, did little in the pursuit of truth, and Murray presents McGuinness's evidence as a masterclass in evasion, while the Paras simply remembered nothing.

The truth, he concludes, will not be found until the shooters on both sides, the Paras who murdered and the IRA members who may have fired shots, tell the truth.

What he does demonstrate is the fallibility of memory, even for the most honest witnesses. There are six accounts of the death of Barney McGuigan which differ in significant detail, with one macabre constant -- a single severed eyelid.

Despite the universally favourable reception of the report, many (and certainly some of the families) will feel that Saville, too, bottled it.

True he identified Soldier F (whom Widgery had rebuked as "bordering on the reckless") as having unlawfully shot at least three of the victims, but it was rather too easy to heap all the blame on Col Wilford (who had already dug his own grave several times in media interviews and in his evidence to the inquiry).

Saville might well have followed responsibility up the military chain of command, at least to the decision to commit 1 Para to crowd-control duties in Derry -- a sure recipe for disaster, within a week of their having killed 11 in Ballymurphy -- by General Ford, who had himself a few days earlier drafted a policy of shooting rioters.

In perhaps the most acute analysis of the Saville material, Niall O Dochartaigh has argued convincingly that the deployment and the tactics represented the contempt of the senior military for what they regarded as pussy-footing by the politicians.

Few of the families who hailed the establishment of the inquiry in 1998 could have imagined that it would take 12 years and cost £200m (€242m).

Indeed some of the most poignant notes in Campbell's book are those which record the deaths of those who died while waiting for the report which would clear the names of their sons and husbands.

The relatives will argue that it was worth every penny, but it must be a question whether it could all have been done more quickly and more cheaply, whether it was necessary to follow every false trail or the musings of every superannuated spook.

What is certain is that there will not be another such inquiry -- which raises the question of the inequity to those who search for truth and justice, the families of victims of other mass-murders, whether in Teebane or Ballymurphy, Dublin or Enniskillen, or on any of the bloody sites which scar the landscape and the memory and punctuate the narrative of the troubles.

Maurice Hayes is a former Ombudsman in Northern Ireland and a senator

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