“Unjustified and Unjustifiable…”

Those were the words of British Prime Minister David Cameron in the House of Commons yesterday as he gave an official apology on behalf of the government to the families of those involved in the 1972 Bloody Sunday shootings.

After the longest trial in British legal history – 12 years – involving 922 witnesses, and at a cost of £195 million, the findings of the Saville Inquiry were finally made public.

Tens of thousands gathered outside the Guildhall in Derry, Northern Ireland, and cheered as their family members who had been shot dead on British streets were fully exonerated of any suspicion. The British Army fired the first shot, said the report, and all but one of the 14 who died were innocent of carrying any weapons. Although one had been carrying a nail bomb, those who shot him had no knowledge of that fact.

I heard the news with great relief. Although I was not connected in any way it had been a dark, unresolved mystery for me, and I was glad to hear the results. I was shocked when at 16 I’d heard that our own British Army had fired upon British civilians in their own streets; and I learned more when I visited the same streets of the Bogside in 1976. After reading more about the events of Bloody Sunday and hearing that the first government inquiry had been dismissed as a ‘whitewash’ I wanted to know what had actually happened on that fateful day.

It was good news when Tony Blair, the then prime minister, had set the wheels of justice in motion again as part of the ongoing peace talks. But I never thought it would take this long. Anyway, however long it took – and sometimes good things do take a long time – the results have brought a lot of families and citizens of Derry some long-awaited peace.


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