Early last Tuesday morning, 56 men and women, two relatives of each of the 27 people killed and injured on Bloody Sunday, met in silence at Derry’s historic city walls. In the course of a solemn, hour-long procession, they walked by the Bogside’s low-rise flat complexes and on past William Street before finishing up at the ornate Guildhall in the centre of the city.
Inside the Guildhall, the group put down the black-and white pictures of their loved ones – each photograph accompanied by the words ‘‘set the truth free’’ – and picked up a 60-page précis of Lord Saville’s long-awaited report into the killing of 14 civilians following a civil rights march in Derry on January 30,1972.
‘‘I was very nervous walking into the Guildhall, but within a minute or two, we were all smiling,” said John Kelly, whose 17-year-old brother Michael was killed on that day.
‘‘It is a massive relief for us all,” Kelly said of Saville’s key finding, that the British army in Derry fired on unarmed civilians without justification or provocation. ‘‘It has been 38 and a half years of hard work, but the families were determined never to give up.
And to hear the words ‘your brother is innocent’ was so special. The tears welled up in my eyes.”
By Tuesday afternoon, thousands had gathered outside the Guildhall to watch British prime minister David Cameron’s speech from Westminster live on big screens specially erected for the event.
Applause rippled across the crowd as the prime minister said ‘‘sorry’’ for the actions of the British army on Bloody Sunday, which he described as ‘‘wrong’’ and ‘‘unjustifiable’’.
‘‘That a British prime minister – and a Conservative one – was prepared to stand up and apologise to the people of Derry, to the whole world, that was incredible,” Kelly told The Sunday Business Post.
John McKinney, whose eldest brother Willie died on Bloody Sunday, described last Tuesday as ‘‘a great day for Derry’’. ‘‘We always knew the truth, but when you get an official apology from the British government, that is just unbelievable,” he said.
McKinney – a founding member of the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign, started in 1992 – said he believed that the previous Labour government should be given credit for setting up the Saville inquiry 12 years ago. ‘‘I don’t think any of this would have happened if Tony Blair hadn’t been prime minister at the time. He took a real personal interest in Bloody Sunday and his involvement was crucial,” he said.
The days following the release of Saville’s report have been dominated by questions over whether or not the soldiers from 1 Para involved in Bloody Sunday should stand trail.
McKinney, like many in Derry, is unsure if the Director of Public Prosecutions could, or should, pursue the matter in the courts.
‘‘To be honest, I don’t know if there should be a trial. Whatever happens, I don’t think anyone is going to go to jail for what they did that day,” said McKinney.
John Kelly, however, believes that the dead – and their families – deserve to see the soldiers involved prosecuted.
‘‘The next step now is justice.
My young brother was only 17 and he was murdered. Soldier F murdered my brother, he murdered John McKinney’s brother, he murdered Paddy Doherty, he murdered Barney McGuigan, and the due course of law is to prosecute him. I think it should happen and it should happen quickly. That would be closure for me,” he said.
The memory of Bloody Sunday has hung heavy over Derry for almost 40 years. ‘‘Every day I wake up, I think about Bloody Sunday. I’ll take it to the grave with me,” McKinney said. But Kelly believed that the Saville report could help the maiden city to move out of the shadows of the past.
‘‘It’s now a matter of getting on with life, which we haven’t been able to do. Now we can move on – not just the families, but the whole city.
Hopefully, now that the name of Bloody Sunday has been removed from the city, the people will be able to move forward,” said Kelly, who vividly remembers bringing his dying brother to hospital.
But not everyone in Derry agrees that, at £191 million, the Saville inquiry proved value for money.
‘‘My view – and it’s a view that is shared across the unionist community – is that the waste of resources that went into the Saville process was just that, a waste of £200 million that was never going to satisfy people on either side of the community,” the Democratic Unionist Party’s Gregory Campbell told The Sunday Business Post.
‘‘It’s £200 million more than was spent on inquiries into deaths in the unionist community,” Campbell said.
The Derry East MP’s opposition to the Saville inquiry was not shared by Mairead Walsh, 24, a librarian from the Catholic Gobnascale area in Derry’s Waterside. ‘‘Everyone in Derry knew that the [Bloody Sunday] victims were innocent, but to hear it like this is so important for everybody.”
Derry has long been one of the economically depressed regions in Ireland, but Walsh, like many others, believed that the Saville ruling could have a lasting, positive impact on the city.
‘‘There is a real sense of motion in this. It’s time for Derry to move on.
For years, the city has felt – and been – hard done by, but now there is the chance for it to build itself up, get more inward investment and for people to come back home.
For so long, there was never really a reason to stay, but maybe this could be a start of a new future forDerry and its people.”
This article appeared in The Sunday Business Post on June 20