Ambassador’s Message – Bloody Sunday
15 June 2010
Today is one for the history books. The report of the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday will be published (www.bloody-sunday-inquiry.org ), some twelve years after it was established in January 1998 and some thirty eight years after that awful event which saw 13 shot dead and a further victim die from his wounds five months later. The events of Bloody Sunday in 1972 were significant not just for the lives lost. It accelerated the cycle of violence, ramping up recruitment into the Provisional IRA and alienating nationalists from the forces of law and order. The British public inquiry under Chief Justice Widgery compounded the tragedy by having the effrontery to blame the victims in an attempt to exculpate the perpetrators. If the Chief Justice were to deny the victims justice, where stood the rule of law?
In all its aspects, Bloody Sunday was a pivotal event in the tragedy of the Northern Ireland conflict. With the emergence of new material about the event and focused pressure from the Irish Government, the New Labour Government under Prime Minister Blair agreed to set aside the Widgery Inquiry and institute a new one. It was a signal development indicating that New Labour was going to break the mould in Northern Ireland. Three months later, the Good Friday Agreement was signed.
The inquiry has been criticised for its costs – which is fair enough – and hence for its every establishment –which is neither fair nor logical. Public inquiries exist to find the truth about matters of deep national concern and as such are of elemental value to democracies. Costs are a function of legal fees (half Saville’s costs) and the degree of cooperation an inquiry receives (the inquiry had to fight many legal battles; the British Army accidentally destroyed the rifles used on Bloody Sunday just as the Saville inquiry got underway).
Will today’s report reveal the truth? What course will it recommend to serve justice for the families of the victims? We must wait and see. The template for questions raised remains the Irish Government’s Assessment of the New Material which critically assessed the Widgery Report in the light of the new evidence emerging at the time. And justice ultimately can only be served by the courts and by the rule of law.
But the Saville Inquiry will already have achieved much by way of truth retrieval, the process of collecting new witness statements, new material and new evidence that will be a rich trove for the families and historians in coming to terms with the narrative of that day. The arguments and interpretations will continue but at least a rich seam of information exists that might otherwise have been lost.