Saville

It’s been an eventful day, but for the moment I’ll only make a few brief remarks about the Saville report. It would seem that on the big issue – the innocence of those shot on Bloody Sunday – Saville has been unambiguous. From the reaction of the crowd in Derry, and specifically the families, that is the main thing they were looking for. After not only seeing their loved ones killed, but then seeing them being traduced by the now discredited Widgery report, what they wanted first and foremost was that vindication – the formal acknowledgement that those killed were unarmed civilians whose deaths were unprovoked and unjustified. That is also what’s behind the warm response to David Cameron’s statement – notwithstanding Cameron’s obligatory encomia to the British military, Cameron will get credit for playing this straight, and the frank admission of injustice by a Tory (and unionist) British prime minister means an awful lot, especially since the state took this long to admit any fault whatsoever.

That’s not to say the report has no points that criticism cannot be levelled at. Clearing the Widgery inquiry of a whitewash seems perverse, given that it was noted that soldiers had lied to Widgery on a large scale. Perhaps, since Widgery would have been inclined to believe the military over their detractors, Lord Saville means us to assume that Widgery whitewashed in good faith. Another point is the dismissal of any premeditation on the part of either the Westminster or Stormont governments. Perhaps there is no conclusive proof of a conspiracy, but you have to place what happened in Derry on 30 January 1972 in some sort of political context. The Faulkner government had been gagging for a decisive confrontation; and the military doctrine of the time was one of subjugating the ghetto. As Simon Winchester rightly says in his powerful Guardian piece, this was a colonial operation, aimed at showing the natives who was boss, with Derry being approached in much the same way as Malaya and Aden had been not too many years previously.

In any case, Saville has told us, more or less, what we already knew had happened. And we also know what followed: after Bloody Sunday, it was nearly impossible to find a northern nationalist who openly opposed armed struggle, just as after Omagh it was nearly impossible to find one who openly supported it. As the CPI statement makes plain, this was part of a whole process in 1972 that involved the destruction of the democratic mass movement and a shift towards minority armed insurgency; as far as the state was concerned, the latter could at least be contained if not defeated.

There are a few other points worth making. One is that, not surprisingly, the military lobby have been very quick out of the blocks to muddy the waters. On the other hand, unionist politicians have tended towards the mealy-mouthed rather than the offensive – David Trimble, for instance, showing just why the Israelis consider him a safe pair of hands to be their impartial observer on their internal inquiry into the flotilla massacre. On the other hand, I saw Gregory Campbell doing a Mark Regev on News 24 today, arguing that the march in question was not a peaceful demonstration but a republican attack on the state. One expects Gregory to be sour, but it should be sobering for fans of our new dispensation that senior unionists will still defend to the hilt the state’s right to kill uppity fenians and not be held accountable.

Further, the pinpointing of blame on the military raises the question of whether prosecutions should follow. This is unlikely, to be honest. After 38 years, there are obvious evidential problems in putting forward any case with a reasonable likelihood of conviction. There’s also the tricky matter of the Good Friday Agreement and its special arrangements for crimes committed prior to 1998. In any case, my view is that little would be gained from putting footsoldiers in the dock; the important thing is the chain of command, and it is unlikely in the extreme that surviving military brass or government officials are going to be made accountable.

Finally, Cameron has thrown a bone to the unionists and his own right wing with his implication that there won’t be any further judicial inquiries into state malfeasance in the north. That means, inter alia, that the Ballymurphy inquiry long demanded by relatives won’t happen. Actually, and I don’t mean a slight here to Derry people, this is just as strong a contender if not more so for an inquiry; Bloody Sunday happened in a short space of time and in a chaotic situation, while in the Ballymurphy case it very much seems like we’re dealing with systematic assassinations. But that is something else we will be invited to draw a line under and move on. Again, this will please the unionists who don’t want any raking over the past… except, oddly enough, for the police Historical Enquiries Team. Truth be told, the HET has not been solving unsolved killings by the hundred, but unionists like the idea that there’s a cold case squad looking at what the Provos were doing decades ago, and can even fondly imagine leading republicans having their collars felt.

Yes, the past here is always a political football. That’s why we couldn’t have a South African-style process, because at least in South Africa there was broad agreement about what the past actually was.

In the round, I’ve a lot of sympathy for what Bernie McAliskey says on this matter. But just for the moment, it’s good to see the Bloody Sunday families getting the vindication they’ve wanted and deserved for so long.

10 Comments

  1. June 16, 2010 at 11:28 am

    […] von entdinglichung am 16. Juni 2010 aus gegebenem […]

  2. WorldbyStorm said,

    June 16, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    Yeah, think you’re spot on. Ballymurphy cries out for a proper investigation. I don’t know if this is unduly pessimistic, but I can’t help feeling that it’s extremely expedient for a rake of people that it’s now the Tories at the helm in London just at this point in the development of matters.

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      June 16, 2010 at 7:20 pm

      It’s convenient for lots of folks. One positive is that it shrinks the reaction from the right – since Cameron does the nostra culpa, you have to be a pretty hardline unionist to dissent. There’d probably have been a lot more attacks from the right had it been Labour in charge.

      There is that aspect too of closing the window on further inquiries of this sort. It’s a bit like the corruption tribunals in the south I suppose – it took nine years to send Frank Dunlop down after he’d admitted being corrupt, nobody else looks like going down and the legal fees are astronomical. It looks very much like the tribunals have got to be a bit of a scam, but were you to close them down you’d want to still have some way of investigating malfeasance.

      • WorldbyStorm said,

        June 16, 2010 at 9:41 pm

        And the concept of the scam then becomes a part of the process to invalidate the very notion of tribunals. It’s most convenient.
        Though, that’s true, there has to be some process to deal with this…

  3. robert said,

    June 16, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    The GFA and the peace process were based on an amnesty for crimes committed by all sides during the Troubles. Any attempt to pursue the soldiers responsible for Bloody Sunday or their commanding officers would immediately trigger demands from unionists that IRA men should be brought to justice. Whether we like it or not peace depends on each side’s soldiers and each side’s top table enjoying immunity for actions pre 1998.

    • Tim Johnston said,

      June 17, 2010 at 5:22 am

      Well that’s the point isn’t it, Robert. 38 years and we still can’t let it go. Peace depends on massive levels of forgivenness and plain selective memory loss. Splintered, your comparison to South Africa is innaccurate. Irish levels of vindictiveness are far higher.

  4. Garibaldy said,

    June 17, 2010 at 12:47 am

    The Historical Enquiries Team has complicated that picture though Robert, especially for loyalists who feel victimised by it, justified or not. Gerry McGeough probably isn’t too happy with it either mind you.

  5. June 17, 2010 at 10:50 am

    […] Splintered Sunrise sums up the mood of a historic day: It would seem that on the big issue – the innocence of those […]

  6. Liam said,

    June 17, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    “38 years and we still can’t let it go”.

    Unlike say, the 1641 Rebellion, the Derry and Ballymurphy events are still in living memory and many of the participants are alive.

    I think it’s right that families of people who have been murdered by the state persist in having their truth made the historically accepted version of events. It’s happened in Derry and the Ballymurphy families deserve the same. The inquiry into those murders made Widgery look credible.

    The more important point is that the British Army is still actively engaged in counter-insurgency operations in places where it’s not wanted. Even their own processes have established that they tortured Iraqis to death and were stupid enough to video it. They continue to kill significant numbers of civilians in Afghanistan. Sooner or later they will do another Derry of Ballymurphy again and next time the demand should be that not just individual murderers like Soldier F carry the can bu the whole command structure and the politicians who make these things possible.

    • Tim Johnston said,

      June 20, 2010 at 2:22 pm

      See, this is the problem, right there.

      There are thousands of people in Ireland who had relatives and friends killed. The fact that the state committed the crime hardly makes it any easier or harder to deal with. At some point, somebody is going to have to say stop, and we can’t exactly just wait for peace until all those people have passed on.
      Yes, they do have a right to the truth. That is important, but without the closure that comes from truth there’s no benefit to anyone outside that circle.
      Your latter point is NOT the ‘more important point’. It is completely irrelevant. Critique of British military culture aside, we are dealing with an event that is chronologically far closer to World War II than to today.
      The fact that the State’s representatives, or individual states, on occasion commit crimes does not nullify the State’s valid monopoly on violence, and does not negate the need for an Army. Those who are seeking for “wider significance” should keep this in mind.
      And, while the State should be held to a higher standard, none of the parties involved in Ireland’s violence have clean hands.


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