In 1972, predominantly Catholic Civil Rights Association planned a series of high-profile marches to regain political initiative from those intent on violent. Ironically, a march in Londonberry on January 30 came up against an army barricade. A number of rioters threw stones at the soldiers, and British paratroopers appeared on the scene and pursued the rioters. They opened fire, killing 13 civilians and wounding 12 others, one of whom died later.
In the immediate aftermath, the British embassy in Dublin was burnt down and the Mid Ulster MP Bernadette McAliskey punched the home secretary, Reginald Maudling, accusing him of lying to the Commons over what happened. Bloody Sunday was the boost to IRA recruitment and fuelled violence in subsequent decades. Lord Cheif Justice’s subsequent inquiry, the Widgery Report, which exonerated the soldiers further fuelled the theories that the killings were conceived at the highest levels of military command, civil service and the Cabinet. In fact, it later transpired that the then PM Edward Heath lobbied Lord Widgery, saying in Northern Ireland, Britain was ‘fighting not only a military war but a propaganda war’.
In 1998, Tony Blair appointed Lord Saville to head a second inquiry as part of Northern Ireland peace process. Twelve years and nearly 200 million pounds later, the Saville inquiry returned its full report today — condemning the soldiers unequivocally. In Westminster, Prime Minister David Cameron offered an extraordinary apology. Yet, the report will forever be marred by the refusal of the soldiers involved to give evidence, the refusal of the Army to release thousands of photographs taken by army photographers who were ordered to give ‘maximum coverage’ that day.
The iconic images to come out of Bloody Sunday were the video of Father Edward Daly (later Bishop of Derry) waving a bloodied white handkerchief as he tried to lead the injured to safety and that of Barney McGuigan dead from a bullet wound to the head. The latter photo was taken by Gilles Peress, on his first professional photo assignment for Magnum.