Bloody Sunday Report Blames British Soldiers
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The prime minister of Britain apologized yesterday and thousands of people cheered. The apology came in London. The cheering came in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, where people gathered as David Cameron apologized for the events of January 30, 1972. That day came to be known as Bloody Sunday, when British troops opened fire on a nationalist march and killed 14 people. NPR's Rob Gifford is covering this story from London.
ROB GIFFORD: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: What's the significance of Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland?
GIFFORD: Well, Bloody Sunday came to be this sort of defining moment in 1972. What happened was there was a civil rights march by the nationalist community, mainly Roman Catholics who were protesting about British treatment of the Roman Catholic community. And British troops opened fire on this crowd and 13 people were killed on the day. One man died of his wounds later.
And there was a report that came within weeks, actually - a British government report - that exonerated the British troops. They said they were fired on first. And for 38 years the relatives of those people have claimed they were innocent and that they had not fired on British troops.
And yesterday, a report was published here in Britain, led by a man called Lord Saville, which basically exonerated those 14 people. It said they were unarmed. They did not pose a threat to the British troops, that troops fired first on the demonstrators. And that is why we saw the celebrations among those people in Londonderry yesterday, because the names of their relatives from 38 years ago were cleared.
INSKEEP: I've heard it said that there were people in that march that were inspired by the American civil rights movement, by nonviolent protest, and that when this incident took place it discouraged people so much that it may have contributed to decades more violence in Northern Ireland.
GIFFORD: I think there is an element of that. Certainly it propelled a generation of angry young nationalists into the nationalist movement and many of them into the Irish Republican Army. And the IRA then caused decades more of trouble, of course between both sides and for both sides, it should be said, on the nationalist and the unionist sides in Northern Ireland.
INSKEEP: So the symbolism of an apology is important. Where was David Cameron when he apologized and what did he actually say?
GIFFORD: Well, very symbolic as well, Steve. He was standing in the British House of Commons. And that is, you know, the nationalist community in Northern Ireland. Many of them are very angry that they are part of Great Britain. They don't want to be part of the United Kingdom.
And David Cameron - to hear him say there is no doubt, there are no ambiguities, what happened was unjustified and unjustifiable, and here is what he said in his actual apology...
Prime Minister DAVID CAMERON (Great Britain): Some members of our armed forces acted wrongly. The government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces. And for that, on behalf of the government, indeed on behalf of our country, I am deeply sorry.
GIFFORD: And that's where the cheers went up in the city of Londonderry - or Derry, as it's known in the nationalist community in Northern Ireland. David Cameron, of course, is benefiting from the fact that he was just five years old when it happened. He has grown up not being a part of all that. And I think that has freed him.
And of course the peace process of the last decade has helped him to step back from this terrible event and to be able magnanimously - I think everyone agreed it was the right thing to do. The top brass in the army was vindicated. And they just said it was a few soldiers who lost their self control and fired randomly into the crowd. And that is what happened and that is now the conclusion of Bloody Sunday 38 years ago.
INSKEEP: Rob, thanks very much.
GIFFORD: Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Rob Gifford reporting on an apology in Great Britain yesterday.
This is NPR News.