The following is a letter from a reader in Ireland.
On Wednesday the 15th June the Saville Inquiry, which investigated the events of “Bloody Sunday” in Derry city on Jan 30th 1972, published its findings. The inquiry lasted for some 12 years and cost almost £200 million. It was commissioned by Tony Blair’s “New” Labour government in early 1998 as a cheap and insincere sop to the nationalist community in the British occupied North of Ireland and, more importantly, as a bone to be thrown the way of nationalist politicians locked in secret negotiations that would eventually produce the reactionary Good Friday Agreement (GFA).
“The firing by soldiers of 1 PARA [1st Battalion, The British Parachute Regiment] on Bloody Sunday caused the deaths of 13 people and injury to a similar number, none of whom was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury.” This line from the Saville Inquiry’s final report adequately summaries its findings and also raises some important questions. The paratroopers deployed that day in Derry did indeed target and shoot 27 people, killing 13 in cold blood and a 14th victim who died four months later as a result of his injuries. 9 of those murdered were between the ages of 17 and 22.
But what the report fails to explain (beyond this or that commanding officer making a bad call in the heat of the moment) is why combat soldiers equipped with combat gear, including assault rifles loaded with live rounds, were involved in the policing of a peaceful demonstration by peaceful civil rights activists.
Those involved in the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) march that day through the streets of Derry were protesting against internment without trial, which was introduced by the British government in August 1971 and had led to the rounding up and imprisonment of hundreds of innocent (and overwhelmingly Catholic) civilians. NICRA, a reformist organization seeking merely equal rights for Catholics within the Protestant-dominated statelet, were considered a threat by the Unionist administration at Stormont and the British government in London, as despite their reformist agenda, they nevertheless exposed the vicious sectarianism of the state and the role this sectarianism played (and continues to play) in propping up British imperialist domination of Ireland.
Despite, however, this momentary and uncharacteristic admission of guilt on the part of the butchers of British imperialism (which has been disgracefully and slavishly lauded across the political spectrum both here in Ireland and across the water in Great Britain) it falls well short of the justice the victims, survivors and their loved ones deserve. The Saville Inquiry’s judgement and the British Prime Minister David Cameron’s accompanying speech speaks only in terms of “unjustifiable use of force,” “untruths” or “mistakes”; not murder, bare-faced lies and calculated policy.
Far more significant, yet largely ignored, was Cameron’s assertion that the role of the British Armed Forces in occupying Ireland was and continues to be to “uphold law & order” and, implicitly, British imperialist interests at the expense of Irish democratic demands. Evidently brief exposures are permitted but straying from this narrative on any consistent basis is not.
The Irish Left’s response to the publication of the report has been for the most part predictable, though there are some exceptions and none more striking than that of the Cliffite Socialist Workers Party’s (SWP) Eamonn McCann. McCann was a prominent figure in the civil rights movement and was present on the day of the massacre in Derry city. The SWP’s horrendous record on “The Troubles” in Occupied Ireland is well known (for instance they supported the initial British troop deployments in 1969 on the basis that it would provide “breathing space” for besieged Catholic ghettos), but McCann’s comments on June 15th take the proverbial biscuit: “I’ve never felt so euphoric in my life. The Bloody Sunday dead and families have been entirely vindicated.” What a strange thing for a self-styled revolutionary to say. Did he ever doubt the truth was the truth, so to speak? Perhaps electoral ambition has clouded his judgement. Who knows?
The illusion of the separation of powers in liberal democracies, in this case the illusion that the capitalist state’s judges can be relied on to independently investigate that same state’s armed forces, is one that serious revolutionaries should be attempting to shatter in the minds of the working class, not foster. The nature of capitalism, and the role the state plays within it, prevents autonomy and accountability being the hallmarks of a healthy judicial system that is interested in social harmony and not the defence of elite interests. Consequently investigations conducted by bodies such as the Saville Inquiry are not worth the paper they’re printed on. As has been made clear by the British government and commentators from Unionist officialdom there are to be no prosecutions related to the “Bloody Sunday” massacre and no further public inquiries into the atrocities of the past.
Only the defeat of British imperialism, the revolutionary overthrow of both states on the island of Ireland and the establishment of an All-Ireland workers’ state will lead to the creation of institutions fit to sit in judgement of agents of imperialism and their crimes.
June 23, 2010
1. The seat of the ‘power-sharing’ administration in the North of Ireland.
2. Socialist Worker, No. 137, 11 September 1969.