https://www.dw.com-Relatives of those killed and injured have marched to mark 50 years since 13 unarmed civilians were shot by British soldiers. The massacre was a major turning point in the era of violence known as “The Troubles.”
Several hundred people, including relatives of the victims, retraced the fateful 1972 march
Commemorations took place in Northern Ireland on Sunday to mark the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday massacre where British troops killed 13 unarmed protesters.
Families of the victims retraced the steps of the original 1972 civil rights march, through the city of Londonderry, also known as Derry.
In a show of solidarity, crowds lined the streets as relatives walked to the Bloody Sunday Monument, where the killings took place.
Children bearing white roses and portraits of the victims joined the procession.
The anniversary comes as Northern Ireland’s fragile peace has been destabilized by Brexit, and with families angry that no one has been convicted for the murders.
In a reminder of the tensions that remain in the province, Protestant unionist hard-liners flew flags of the British army’s Parachute Regiment in an area of Londonderry ahead of the anniversary.
Families, supporters gather for memorial
Relatives of the civil rights protesters demanded justice in Derry/Londonderry, as the names of the victims were read out to the mournful noted of an Irish flute.
Michael McKinney, whose brother William was among those killed, said the UK government was “scared” of allowing any prosecutions of the soldiers for fear of what a trial might uncover. But addressing the remembrance service, he stressed: “We will not go away and we will not be silenced. We shall overcome.”
The yearly memorial service was attended for the first time by an Irish premier, as Taoiseach Micheal Martin joined other dignitaries in laying a wreath. “I believe that the full process and justice of the courts should be deployed,” Martin told reporters after meeting the relatives in private.
“It is important because time is moving on too for many, many families, and families need closure.”
- Ireland commemorates Bloody Sunday
Meanwhile, U2, Bono and The Edge released on social media an acoustic version of “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” the Irish band’s iconic song about the day.
A performance of music and poetry hosted by actor Adrian Dunbar, from TV police drama “Line of Duty,” included a choral rendition of the US civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome,” which was also sung by the 1972 marchers.
What happened on Bloody Sunday?
The killings were one of the darkest episodes in the conflict between Northern Ireland’s Catholic nationalists — who want a united Ireland — and Protestant unionists loyal to Britain. They occurred during a march on January 30, 1972, in opposition to the detention without trial of Catholic nationalists during the so-called Troubles that began four years earlier.
Despite a ban on protesting, more than 15,000 people set off from a housing estate toward the city center. When youths began throwing stones at a British army barricade, the troops were ordered to move in.
A few minutes later, soldiers started firing, killing 13 people and injuring 15 others.
The soldiers claimed to have been attacked by nail bombs and gunfire and insisted they aimed away from the demonstrators.
While their claims were accepted in the official report published later that year, they were not backed up by independent accounts.
The victims’ families derided the report as a “whitewash,” and the killings spurred recruitment to the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), the paramilitary group fighting for reunification with Ireland.
The IRA stepped up its campaign of terror in Northern Ireland, the British mainland and abroad, which lasted until 1998 — the same year as the signing of the Good Friday Agreement peace deal.
What has happened since?
The UK government apologized in 2010 after a second official inquiry found that the soldiers fired without justification on unarmed, fleeing civilians and then lied about it for decades.
The 5,000-page report, which followed a 12-year inquiry, concluded that the protesters posed no threat, and that the soldiers’ commander on the ground violated his orders.
But five decades on, relatives are still searching for the justice they believe is needed for a scarred society to heal.
One former British soldier was charged in 2019 in the killing of two of the protesters and the injury of four others.
Last year, the British government announced a plan to halt all prosecutions of soldiers and militants in a bid to draw a line under the conflict.
The decision has angered victims’ families and has been rejected by all the main political parties in Northern Ireland.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Parliament on Wednesday that Bloody Sunday was “one of the darkest days in our history” and that the country “must learn from the past.”
How is Brexit threatening peace in Northern Ireland?
The UK’s divorce from the European Union has unsettled the fragile post-1998 consensus.
Protestant unionists want Johnson’s government to scrap a protocol governing post-Brexit trade for Northern Ireland, which treats the province differently from the UK mainland.
The government, which is in protracted talks with the EU on the issue, is sympathetic to their demands.
Heading into regional elections in May, some nationalists hope Brexit could help achieve what the Irish Republican Army (IRA) never did — a united Ireland, a century after the UK carved out a Protestant statelet in the north.
mm/aw (AFP, Reuters)