The Bloody Sunday shootings which killed 13 Catholic men and youths and wounded a further 17 took place in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, following a demonstration in favour of a united Ireland on January 30, 1972. The shots were fired by the British Army which suffered no casualties.

The government set up an enquiry which sat for six weeks and reported in mid-April 1972 that the Army had been provoked but some troops had fired recklessly. The term “provocation” was understood to mean that Irish nationalists, probably members of the IRA, had fired first.

But Irish nationalists have always insisted that IRA members were under instructions not to attack the Army during the demonstration. Another enquiry into Bloody Sunday is taking place under Lord Saville and yesterday Martin McGuinness, now the Sinn Fein Education Minister in the power-sharing executive of Northern Ireland, gave evidence; he said that he had been second in command of the IRA at Londonderry on the day the shootings took place.

Much has been made of the fact that Mr McGuinness has “at last” admitted his IRA connections. In fact, he told a Dublin court in 1973 that “for over two years I was an officer in the Derry brigade of the IRA”.

The hurried six-week enquiry in 1972 was widely regarded as a whitewash of the Army and in 1998 the British government set up the new Saville enquiry.
It has already sat for two years and expects to continue its work for a similar period. At the end, its report should be a definitive account of the events of Bloody Sunday, drawn from all sides, on which historians can rely.

Ray Fleming

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