What is suddenly wrong with a march commemorating Bloody Sunday? And particularly when this year’s theme is ‘March for Justice’? Is it not essential that we march given there is as yet not a hint of prosecutions, even for perjury, let alone murder, of any of the 10 soldiers the Saville Report asks us to believe were the only ones responsible for the whole thing? And essential too given there’s no ongoing legal or political outcry at its bamboozling conclusions that the nail bombs were not planted on Gerard Donaghy’s body and that there was no high-level conspiracy or cover up. Such conclusions fly in the face of the evidence.
Take the cover-up issue as an example. The inquiry dealt in detail with the ‘shot list’ of British Army shootings on the day. The evidence exposed it to be fictitious. When the incidents it depicted were examined some soldiers would have had to be able to see and shoot through buildings and walls to be able to hit the targets they reported firing at. An objective reading of the evidence around it suggests it was concocted by Mike Jackson, Adjutant of 1Para on the day. He went on to become General Sir Mick Jackson, head of the British Army. And even though the inquiry knows that this piece of fiction formed the basis of the official story emanating from British embassies around the world, it concludes there was no evidence of a high-level cover-up? This was the high level cover-up!
Then of course there’s the fears about the march being ‘inclusive’. This newspaper carried an article last week indicating that some might come to march for justice for the victims of the Kingsmills massacre or other incidents of IRA violence, official, provisional or otherwise? But what would be wrong with that now? Would it not be a good thing? Is the ‘war’ not over? Are we not in a peace process? Does that not necessitate bold steps?
In 2006 for example, it was Alan McBride, whose wife and father-in-law were killed in the IRA’s 1993 bombing of Frizzell’s fish shop, who delivered the Bloody Sunday Lecture. And on the march that year we lit 3,700 candles, one for every victim of the conflict, be they civilian or military, Protestant, Catholic or dissenter. What kind of justice would we be marching for if it were not justice for everyone? Isn’t it time we created inclusive spaces and marches where we can dialogue and begin to sort out what justice might be in this complex legacy context and find the courage demanded to learn its ways, rather than stay stuck in our truncated sectarian versions of it?
If I’m honest, though, I too had a fear about the march. It was related to the vain hope I had that once Sinn Fein lost interest in it, I with others might take it forward as an annual march for justice but with a significant difference. It could at last go forward de-coupled from the need to have the rally at the end addressed by successive speakers who would legitimise armed struggle as the means of achieving justice for Irish people in the north. Were this to happen we would be picking up the blood-stained banner that was dropped on Bloody Sunday and reinvigorating the ideals of non-violence and inclusive justice too many of us lost sight of as we dropped it.
Such a perspective doesn’t sanctimoniously condemn armed struggle, despite its horrors. It understands that below the veneer of democracy we live in a world structured by violence. Neither does it legitimise it. It seeks rather to understand the underlying socio-political circumstances and ideological responses that empower it and with courage, creative actions, and argument, demonstrate a more open, democratic, consistent and reliable method to liberate ourselves with others.
I was turning all this around in my head when I went to the three recent public meetings called by Kate and Linda Nash, the march organisers. It was at the last one, listening to them, that I decided I was going to march. I have no doubt organisations advocating armed struggle will also be marching but they would have organised their own march anyway.
So the important thing to know is that this march is politically non-aligned. Its cause is justice for a murdered brother and the other victims of Bloody Sunday but it is open to others who walk in solidarity with that cause but have other issues to raise. At one of the meetings Liam Wray declared he will be marching too. We’ll see who else turns up. I heard that Paddy Nash is going to be singing ‘We Shall Overcome’ on the platform at the end and Liam and Kate will address the rally.
I’m marching because I believe this is, and always has been, a vital human rights issue for all the citizens of these islands and an important rallying point nationally and internationally for other justice issues. It shouldn’t be forgotten now, nor abandoned to the few family members who still see its importance or to the organisations who would use it to advocate armed struggle because they still haven’t learned that its counter-productive, turns its back on hope and leaves complex legacy issues to be sorted in its wake.
There is much work to do in bringing us as a people, whether we identify as Irish or British, to the point where we all see that, and pick up that banner we dropped in 1972. The work is ongoing but begins again on the 29th January. As the quotation on the monument says, “Their epitaph is in the continuing struggle for democracy.”
former member of the Bloody Sunday Weekend Committee.