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Symbolic efforts can enhance fragile peace



A mural of the 14 people who died on Bloody Sunday. Photo: Brian Lawless

A mural of the 14 people who died on Bloody Sunday. Photo: Brian Lawless

A mural of the 14 people who died on Bloody Sunday. Photo: Brian Lawless

Fifty years on from one of the worst slaughters amongst three decades of bloodshed, the people of Derry showed themselves utterly unbowed in their quest for justice.

Right for Derry, where the people steadfastly refuse to give up their five-decade campaign, despite the passage of time.

In 2010 the British authorities finally and definitively acknowledged that this state murder of 14 innocent people in Derry was “unjustified, unjustifiable and wrong”. This removed all doubt about what happened there on January 30, 1972.

But over a decade later the bereaved relatives, friends and their succeeding generations, are still left with the burning question: Why did Bloody Sunday happen?

These decades of injustice are compounded by London’s unilateral plans for an amnesty for all who killed and maimed during the horror years we euphemistically dub “The Troubles”.

In a very rare show of cross-party unity in Northern Ireland, all political leaders have denounced this unilateral amnesty idea. The Irish Government is equally trenchantly opposed to this effective amnesty.

The various commemorative events in Derry yesterday were suitably poignant, dignified and brave. The presence of the Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Coveney, as well as a video address by President Michael D Higgins, were all significant. This told us that the years of ambivalence and doubt by Dublin, driven by fears of violent unrest spreading south, are now quite simply over.

But the absence of senior UK government leaders, and prominent Northern unionist representatives was deeply regrettable.

There was a short, frank but limited statement by UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, which stood poorly beside his planned amnesty which dates back to the 2019 Westminster elections.

The absence of unionist political leaders does a disservice to their constituents. Recent history teaches us that symbolic efforts to reach across the community divide are helpful and can enhance a sometimes fragile peace in Northern Ireland.

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We are again reminded that these commemorations took place little more than three months from decisive Stormont parliament elections in Belfast on May 5. It is very possible that Sinn Féin will emerge as the largest party laying claim to the office of first minister.

Such an outcome would bring a huge challenge to unionists of all hues who may have big decisions to make about the future of power-sharing and peace in the North. This absence yesterday is hardly encouraging.

There was also much that was encouraging about these events in Derry, which began with relatives walking from the nearby suburb of Creggan down to the Bogside where the horrors unfolded precisely half a century ago.

It was a day to remember all who died on that day and to reflect on the unfinished quest for justice.

This 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday was also an opportunity to reflect on the need to make the fragile peace strong and enduring.

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