Friday 22 March 2019

Editorial: 'Too little, too late but let us protect peace we have'

Two children hold pictures of Bloody Sunday victims James Wray and William McKinney during a vigil in West Belfast. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Two children hold pictures of Bloody Sunday victims James Wray and William McKinney during a vigil in West Belfast. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire


With disappointment, relief but mostly dignity, families of victims of the 1972 Bloody Sunday killings reacted to the news that only one former British soldier would be charged.

Some 14 lives were taken; thousands more turned upside down when the peaceful civil rights protest was raked with live rounds.

1972 was to prove Northern Ireland's bloodiest year by far, with nearly 500 people killed.

History is not a burden on the memory but an illumination of the soul, wrote Lord Acton in the 19th century.

The people of Derry might be forgiven should they chose to demur.

They have clung to the hope of "illumination" for 50 years. The brother of victim Mickey McKinney, on hearing Soldier F will face prosecution in connection with the incident, said: "Everyone deserves justice... For us here today, it is important to point out that justice for one family is justice for all of us."

However, Denis Bradley, then a priest on the march that day, admitted to annoyance.

How could anyone claim there was not enough evidence for prosecution?

Mr Bradley felt this was "almost an insult" to the many who were witnesses that day and whom had given evidence.

For families who lost loved ones the clock stopped; nothing would be the same again.

Details of the killings reverberated beyond Derry's walls, around the world.

One eyewitness quoted in the 'Belfast Telegraph' described: "I seen them getting lifted like sides of meat." While the 'Derry Journal' quoted Alexander Nash, who saw his son shot dead: "I saw the troops throw three bodies into a Saracen (armoured car) like pigs."

Later in 1972, relatives had more official salt rubbed in their deep emotional wounds, when Lord Widgery concluded the soldiers had been fired on first.

He further said there was "no reason to suppose" the soldiers would have opened fire otherwise.

But in 2010, the Saville report described one person who was shot while crawling away from the soldiers. Lord Saville gave families consolation when he condemned the soldiers and exonerated their victims, who he said were not posing a threat of causing death or serious injury.

They took further heart from then prime minister David Cameron's apology.

Commenting on Saville he said: "The conclusions are absolutely clear. There is no doubt, there is nothing equivocal, there are no ambiguities. What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong." But if as Mr Cameron said it was "unjust and unjustifiable", it is hard to see how families could find much closure in only one soldier being called to account.

Many will see all this as too little, too late. It may have been too long ago. But wrong and right does not change with time. It is hardly enough, but perhaps the only meaningful way to honour those who died is to protect the peace we have today.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss